25 Years on the Couch: Margaret Pomeranz

by Rochelle Siemienowicz

With her spiky blonde crop, enormous earrings and throaty laugh, Margaret Pomeranz is no doubt the most recognisable and beloved film critic in Australia.  In an amazing feat of television longevity, Pomeranz has been appearing on screen with her fellow reviewer (and friendly sparring partner) David Stratton, for 25 years now.  They first appeared together in 1986, when they established and hosted The Movie Show on SBS. In 2004, the duo moved to the ABC, where the show was renamed At the Movies, and is still going strong today. In fact, to celebrate the 25th anniversary, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne is now staging an exhibition, ‘Margaret and David: 25 Years Talking Movies’ (17 August – 4 December 2011).

Pomeranz fell into movie reviewing completely by chance. As a producer for SBS, she was casting The Movie Show  and needed a female host as conterpart to established film critic David Stratton. There didn’t seem to be anybody else available, so Pomeranz stepped in, sat down on the sofa, and as they say, a star was born.

An Arts graduate with a major in German and Pyschology, the young Margaret had spent time in Europe, worked as a journalist for the ABC and the Bulletin, and had become an enthusiastic supporter of the new wave of Australian films in the 1970s, alongside her husband, filmmaker Hans Pomeranz . After attending the Playwright’s Studio at NIDA she began writing for television, radio and film, and then moved to screenwriting and television producing for the newly established multicultural broadcaster, SBS – where her experiences included excecutive producing the AFI Awards and the IF Awards.

A passionate and outspoken advocate for the freedom of speech, Pomeranz is currently vice-President of Watch on Censorship. She’s also served as a member of the Advertising Standards Board, and is a past President of the Film Critics Circle of Australia.

In our interview, conducted earlier this year at the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival, Pomeranz was as warm, funny and intense in person as she is on screen. She enthused about her new hot pink iPhone (‘Now I can finally find my phone in  my handbag!’), reminisced about her early years on television, and discussed the complexities of reviewing the Australian films made by colleagues and friends. And just in case you think her job’s a dream, she lets us in on some of the minor irritations of having to see every single film released each week.

Celebrating 25 years of sparring on the couch: Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton. Image courtesy of ABC

AFI: Congratulations on 25 years of doing The Movie Show – or versions thereof!

Margaret Pomeranz: It’s been incredible. I can remember way back, at the beginning, when I’d only been doing it for four years, I remember saying, ‘Oh, I’ll just do it for one more year.’ It’s always been one more year, one more year. And then all of sudden, you go ‘Oh wow, it’s ten years!’ And then it’s 20. Now it’s a quarter of a century and it sounds pretty heavy duty.

AFI:  When you were saying ‘one more year’, was that because the pace was so intense that you didn’t know if you could keep it up? Or were you thinking that the show wouldn’t be supported for more than one more year?

Margaret Pomeranz: Well, I suppose in those days, programs only lasted a certain number of seasons. You expected that they’d want to go on and make something new. I think because we started on SBS, we sort of worked our way in from the edge. People who liked film made an effort to find us, and then the show became established. Films keep coming out every week, all year round, so they need reviewing. It just keeps on keeping on.

AFI: When the show started you were producing as well as presenting. What was it like performing both those roles?

Margaret Pomeranz: It nearly killed me! It’s not actually an ideal balance of roles, because, you know, I had to learn to shut up in the studio, to let them call the shots from the control room, instead of me trying to do it. I’m such a control freak! That took a while.

It’s a small country, and it’s actually quite a small industry, so you actually do personally know a lot of the people in these films you’re talking about and you know that if you are critical, it’s terribly hurtful for them, and terribly damaging.

AFI: In Australia, you and David are our most recognisable film critics, and you’re very much part of the debate when a new Australian film gets released. Every Australian filmmaker is interested in how their work is reviewed on your show. They’ll be watching and caring about what you think. That must be quite a consideration for you.

Margaret Pomeranz: It is a consideration. It’s a small country, and it’s actually quite a small industry, so you actually do personally know a lot of the people in these films you’re talking about and you know that if you are critical, it’s terribly hurtful for them, and terribly damaging. I must admit that I really liked it when our show was a little niche program on SBS without that responsibility. I don’t particularly want that responsibility. But unfortunately, it’s been thrust upon us and I’m very aware of how important it is for filmmakers when their work is reviewed on our show.

AFI: Your show was the first of its kind in Australia, wasn’t it?

Margaret Pomeranz: Yes. We were the only program that tried to cover every film in a week. You had Peter Thompson on the ABC and gradually, on cable television, there were a few shows as well. But for free-to-air, I can’t actually believe that no one had ever thought of this before. And even with SBS, you know, we really had to fight to get it up. There were movie review shows that were well-established in America at that time, but there was nothing here, and there continued to be nothing. I don’t know whether it was because the commercial television channels here were so aligned with some of the studios – the output that they took from Paramount and Warners and stuff like that, so that they thought it would compromise them if some of their material would be criticised on their own station – but the ABC and, well, public broadcasting in general, has that absolute freedom to not owe anything to anyone, which is healthy. It’s why I believe in public broadcasting.

AFI: The film critic or reviewer has to be absolutely autonomous, otherwise it’s a pointless exercise.

Margaret Pomeranz: Yes. At the same time, I wouldn’t downplay the major newspaper critics in this country either. I’m sure every city has at least one reviewer who is very important and would consider themselves to be thoroughly independent.

AFI: As someone who’s been doing this for so long, do you get the feeling that the quality of the debate about cinema and film culture has improved in the last couple of decades, or has it changed in any way?

Margaret Pomeranz: I actually don’t think television is the arena for really in-depth debate about film. All I wanted to do with our program was make a guide to cinema, the current cinema. But what I did notice over the years is this absolute explosion of interest in cinema. And I imagine it’s because cinema is taught in schools and kids have the ability to make their own short films with the technology these days. And it is a magic art. No wonder they’re so enthused about it! Nowadays many young people are extremely cinema-literate, so that has certainly changed over the years. When we started, we were the first people to go out and actually cover Australian films shooting on location. A lot of the early stories that we did, no one else had ever thought of that. Then the idea of creating EPKs [Electronic Press Kits] came up and we pulled back from that. But I hope that by giving those kinds of insight into this struggling, poor little industry that we’ve got, an industry that throws up so much talent, that we can be part of the process of developing enthusiasm for what’s happening in film in this country.

I walk the streets of any city in this country and people greet me with a smile. Now, that’s not a bad way to go about life, actually, to have that sort of genuine response – people smiling at you as if you’re a friend.

AFI: You travel the world’s film festivals and watch films for a living. What is the hardest part of your job?

Margaret Pomeranz: I suppose the fact is that you’re completely at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. It’s very hard even making a doctor’s appointment that you know you’re going to be able to keep. Or a dinner appointment. Recently I said to [theatre director] Neil Armfield, ‘I’m giving up on theatre. I can’t go to the theatre anymore because I don’t know when I’m going to have to go to a six o’clock film screening. And I’m never going to make the theatre by eight.’  The number of theatre tickets I’ve had to swap or abandon! It just gets to be very frustrating. It’s really difficult, trying to have dinner with the kids, who seem to want to get up early and go to bed early. It’s a minor irritation. But the rest of it is great. Everybody is so lovely. I have to tell you, I walk the streets of any city in this country and people greet me with a smile. Now, that’s not a bad way to go about life, actually, to have that sort of genuine response – people smiling at you as if you’re a friend. It’s lovely.

AFI: You don’t get people coming up to you and saying: ‘How could you not have loved such-and-such a film?’

Margaret Pomeranz: No. Occasionally, very occasionally, people come up and take issue in a really engaged way. They’re not attacking, but they want to talk about a film that you haven’t liked and they’ve really liked. But generally, there’s just great enthusiasm for the program. It’s surprised me, it really surprised me. But we’ve been in people’s lounge rooms for 25 years. You know, there are 25-year olds who’ve grown up with us. We’ve been part of young people’s lives for all their lives if they’re interested in film and they’ve been following the program, and a lot of them have. It’s incredible. We’re an institution, we’re institutionalised!

AFI: In a good way! And what advice would you have for a young film reviewer who’s trying to make a start?

Margaret Pomeranz: I suppose it’s the same advice that you give a filmmaker. Just watch a lot of cinema. See how the good ones do it. See how the bad ones do it. Have a film education. We’ve introduced this ‘Classics’ segment on At The Movies, and the response to that has been really extraordinary. I mean, people want to learn about cinema. They do want to be led towards really fantastic films of the past. And I think good filmmakers know what the greats have done in the past and they can learn from them.

AFI: You said something very interesting in your 2010 Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture, bemoaning Australian filmmakers’ traditional reticence to pack an emotional punch and to explore things like sex and intimacy.  Do you think we’re heading away from that tendency or is it still a problem?

Margaret Pomeranz: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to make blanket criticisms, but I think it is a trend. And I noticed it in Canadian films too.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve inherited that ‘Britishness’, that reticence, which the Americans just shrugged off, embracing their new world and everything that was free in it, including emotion. But I do think that it’s not an area that Australians feel competent to explore – ideas of intense emotion, intense love. But, I have to say that I’ve just recently seen Griff the Invisible, and it’s beautiful. It is really a compassionate, wonderful little film. So, you know, with films like that, maybe things are changing.

AFI: From an AFI perspective, you’ve been engaged with the AFI Awards in various ways for a long time. What are your memories of those early years when you produced the awards when they were broadcast on SBS?

Margaret Pomeranz: Oh yes, I pounded the floor backstage and wrung my hands whenever anybody went over their allotted time for their thank you speech! It was a massive undertaking.  I had never done anything like that before, so it was a huge learning curve for me. But fortunately, Denny Lawrence was the AFI Chair at the time and I’d known him for a long time and we got on very well. I was able to speak up about things and become really engaged in the process, which was lovely.

AFI: From your perspective now, as a film reviewer now, what are the importance of the AFI Awards?

Margaret Pomeranz: I think they’re really important, because it focuses the nation’s attention on our cinema and highlights the grand achievements in the particular year. It’s good for individual films, but I think it’s also good for the country as a whole to have their interests pricked at certain moments and this is the big moment in the year for Australian film. In the early days when I came back to Australia from overseas, I’d go to the AFI Awards. Actually at that time I had a screen writing credit so I was able to vote in the screen writing category. And I’d go to the AFI Awards screening and you’d get to see all the films released in that year. Everybody in the film industry went. It was a great informal forum for the discussion of film. Now I’m looking forward to seeing the actual Awards being in Sydney for a change.

AFI: The glamour, the glamour! We look forward to seeing you there. Thanks for talking with us.

Margaret Pomeranz: My pleasure.

MORE INFORMATION

At the Movies screens on ABC TV every Wednesday night at 10.00pm and is repeated on Sundays at 6.00pm.

Margaret and David: 25 Years Talking Movies is exhibited at ACMI in Melbourne from 17 August until 4 December 2011. The 25 year anniversary episode of At the Movies will screen on ABC1 on 26 October. Visit abc.net.au for further info.

‘Let’s agree to disagree’ – A great piece posted on the ACMI Blog, with David and Margaret offering their 25 most memorable and most forgettable film experiences. Also, some terrific photos from the early years.

 

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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: Mrs Carey’s Concert, Mad Bastards & Snowtown

Here I Am: In Conversation with Beck Cole, Marcia Langton and Kath Shelper

Tough and Tender: An interview with Emily Watson (Oranges and Sunshine)

On the Box: Australian Television 2011

In-the-box-2011

For the third year running, we preview some Australian television highlights for the year ahead. (You can read the 2009 and 2010 stories to see if we got it right). With more channels than ever, and Pay TV on the rise, the television landscape is in flux. Audiences are increasingly fragmented and demanding – as they can afford to be, with so much choice available. They want quality entertainment, up-to-the-minute news, and flexible catch-up options to snare their missed favourites. Increasingly, viewers expect to be able to extend their interests on a show’s website, and to be able to chat about their interests on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, thus participating in a virtual community of viewers and fans.

Television may be a global industry, but the demand for excellent local content with an Australian accent remains strong. Here is just a small selection of what we’re looking forward to in 2011. We’ll focus broadly on those categories celebrated in the AFI Awards: drama, comedy, light entertainment, and children’s television – and of course we can’t mention everything. (Note: Some of these shows have already screened and are currently in their encore broadcasts; others are vaguely dated for late 2011.) Here’s the run-down:


Drama: Series, Mini-Series and Telefeatures

Rake, Series 1  

(ABC2, Mondays, 8:30pm – encore screenings, 8 x 60 min)

Now in its encore season, Rake follows the exploits of a lovable rogue, criminal defence barrister Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh) who defends the indefensible – from bigamists to cannibals and everything in between. He’s champion of the lost cause …both in the court room and in the bedroom. An excellent cast includes Matt Day, Geoff Morrell, Adrienne Pickering, Danielle Cormack, Russell Dykstra and Caroline Brazier. Rake is created by Peter Duncan and Richard Roxburgh (who also produce alongside Essential Media’s Ian Collie), and co-written by Andrew Knight. Directors include Rachel Ward, Jessica Hobbs and Jeffrey Walker. A second series is rumoured to hit screens in 2012. Rake
Winners & Losers  

(Seven Network, currently screening Wednesdays, 8:30pm)

The first episode was a ratings winner with 1.6 million viewers. From the creators of Packed to the Rafters, Winners & Losers is a drama about four 20-something friends who were rejects and ‘losers’ ten years ago at school. Now they’ve reunited and won the lottery, forcing them to negotiate the pleasures and pitfalls of being ‘winners’. How will this affect their friendships and their love lives? A likeable cast includes Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Melissa Bergland, Melanie Vallejo, Virginia Gay, Denise Scott and Francis Greenslade. Produced by Bevan Lee, John Holmes and AFI Award nominee MaryAnne Carroll (All Saints) and directed by Nicholas Bufalo and Ian Gilmour. Winners & Losers
Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo 

(ABC1, Sunday 17 April & Monday 18 April, 8:30pm, 2 x 110 min)

The blurb sounds great: “It’s 1972. Skirts are up, pants are down. Girls can have anything: fabulous careers, fashionable clothes, oral sex. And riding the wave of sexual liberation and feminist freedom is Cleo magazine – fresh, bold and naughty. Two ambitious, young upstarts – Ita Buttrose and Sir Frank Packer’s unregarded second son, Kerry – create their own legends as they fling the modern girl headlong into the passion and politics of this turbulent era.” Starring Asher Keddie as Ita, and Rob Carlton (Chandon Pictures) as a lean and hungry Kerry Packer, Paper Giants is produced by Southern Star’s John Edwards and Karen Radzyner and directed by Daina Reid and Emma Freeman. Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo
Small Time Gangster 

(Movie Extra, Tuesdays, 8:30pm from 19 April, 8 x 60 min)

Tony Piccolo (Steve Le Marquand) is a devoted suburban family man who works hard in his carpet cleaning business. He also happens to be Melbourne’s toughest stand-over man, with another secret ‘family’ headed up by terrifying underworld boss Barry Donald (Gary Sweet). When the two worlds threaten to collide, there’s black comedy aplenty. Small Time Gangster stars Sacha Horler as Tony’s loving wife, Geoff Morrell as an ex-hitman and mentor, and Gia Carrides as streetwise mover and shaker. Written and created by Gareth Calverley (Spy Shop) and Joss King (H2O), Small Time Gangster is directed by Jeffrey Walker (Rake, City Homicide). Small Time Gangster
East West 101, Series 3 

(SBS One, Wednesdays, 8:30pm from 20 April, 7 x 60 min)

This is the third and final series of the AFI Award winning and critically acclaimed East West 101 from producers Steve Knapman and Kris Wyld and director Peter Andrikidis. Tense, exciting and politically relevant, this third series explores the fallout from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through crimes committed in Australia. Don Hany returns as the tough and troubled Muslim cop working alongside a cast including Susie Porter, Aaron Fa’aoso, Daniella Farinacci, Aden Young, Tammy McIntosh, Matt Nable, Aaron Jeffrey, Robert Mammone and Rena Owen. East West 10, Series 3 has just been nominated at the Monte Carlo Television Festival for Outstanding International Producer (Wyld and Knapman), Outstanding Actor (Don Hany and Aaron Fa’aso), and Outstanding Actress (Susie Porter and Rena Owen). Winners will be announced in June. In the meantime we’re looking forward to this top-shelf drama. East West 101, Series 3
Cloudstreet 

(Showcase, Sundays, 8:30pm from May 22nd, 6 x 120 min)

The long-awaited screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s acclaimed bestselling novel tells the story of two rural families who suffer separate catastrophes and flee to the city to pick up the pieces of their lives and start again. Living in the same house at No.1 Cloud Street, the Lambs and the Pickles share numerous tragedies and triumphs that draw them closer together, until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts. Set in Perth during the 1930s and 40s, Cloudstreet boasts an outstanding ensemble cast including AFI Award winning actors Stephen Curry, Essie Davis, Emma Booth, Geoff Morrell, and is directed by AFI Award winner Matthew Saville (The King, Noise) and adapted for the screen by Ellen Fontana and Tim Winton. Cloudstreet
Offspring, Series 2 

(Network Ten, May 2011, 13 x 60 min)

Will Nina (Asher Keddie) and Chris (Don Hany) finally get it together? Tune in for the second series of the charming and frustrating drama about the messy and humorous loves and lives of the Proudman family. Produced by Southern Star’s John Edwards and Imogen Banks, Offspring features a stellar Australian cast including Kat Stewart, John Waters, Eddie Perfect, Richard Davies, Linda Cropper and Deborah Mailman – fresh off the back of her recent AFI Award win for her performance as Cherie. Directors include Kate Dennis, Ken Cameron, Daina Reid, Shirley Barrett, Emma Freeman. Offspring, Series 2
Blood Brothers 

(Channel Nine, May TBC, 90-minute telemovie)

Based on the true story of the Gilham family murders, one of Australia’s most sensational criminal cases, Blood Brothers is produced by Playmaker Media and stars Lisa McCune, Tony Martin and Michael Dorman. Based on the book by Robin Bowles, with a screenplay by Victoria Madden, the telemovie promises to be “a chilling portrait of crime and punishment, a compelling insight into human nature, and a relentless fight for justice.” Blood Brothers
Packed to the Rafters, Series 4 

(Seven Network, mid-2011, 22 x 60 min)

Australia’s highest rating drama series returns with the rest of Series 4 mid-year. Following the ongoing trials and tribulations of the Rafters family with affection and wit, Packed to the Rafters features an ensemble cast led by AFI Award winners Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson  as Julie and Dave Rafter. and boasts some of Australia’s leading directors including AFI Award winners Shirley Barrett and Cherie Nowlan at the helm in 2011. Packed to the Rafters, Series 4
Sea Patrol, Series 5 – ‘Damage Control’ 

(Channel Nine, mid 2011 TBC, 13 x 60 min)

Following the crew of the HMAS Hammersley as they patrol the coastline of Australia and protetct the nation’s borders, this is the fifth and final series of Sea Patrol. Lisa McCune again heads up the cast, along with Ian Stenlake, Conrad Coleby, John Batchelor, Matt Holmes Kristian Schmid and Tammy McIntosh .Sea Patrol is produced by McElroy All Media and was filmed at Mission Beach, Far North Queensland and at Warner Bros Studio on the Gold Coast. Sea Patrol, Series 5 – ‘Damage Control’
The Slap 

(ABC1, late 2011, 8 x 55 min)

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own, setting off a ripple of consequences among those who witness it. Based on Christos Tsolkias’ bestselling novel about a group of friends and family in contemporary Melbourne, this miniseries stars Melissa George, Sophie Lowe, Sophie Okonedo, Essie Davis, Jonathan LaPaglia, Oliver Ackland, Alex Dimitriades, Diana Glenn and Anthony Hayes. A team of four AFI Award winning directors – Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville, Tony Ayres and Robert Connolly each direct two episodes. The Slap is produced by Matchbox Pictures’ Tony Ayres, Helen Bowden and Michael McMahon. The Slap
Tangle, Series 3 

(Foxtel/Austar, Showcase, late 2011 TBC, 6 x 60 min)

When Tangle debuted in 2009, it explored an interconnected family and friendship group across two generations – the world of 40-year-olds and their teenage children. The second season looked at what happens when tragedy strikes. Season three promises to pull apart and examine just how the generations separate from one another and how the ties of family are stretched. Produced by Southern Star’s John Edwards, the cast includes Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart and Catherine McClements, who last year won an AFI Award for her performance as Christine in this surprising and original series. Tangle, Series 3
Spirited, Series 2 

(Foxtel/Austar, W Channel, 2011, 10 x 60 min)

Claudia Karvan returns to her role as Suzy Darling, the uptight Sydney dentist who happens to be sharing her apartment with the ghost of Henry Mallet, a wacky 80s rock star (Matt King). A strange and impossible love affair begins. In this season, Suzy’s ex-husband (Roger Corser) continues to try to win her back, while Henry is joined by an entourage of other ghosts, including ‘The King’ played by Simon Lyndon. Another Southern Star production, Spirited boasts a team of accomplished directors, including Stuart McDonald, Michael J. Rowland, Jonathan Teplitzky, Rowan Woods and Jonathan Brough. Jacquelin Perske heads up the writing team, comprising Tony McNamara, Lally Katz, Alice Bell, Jessica Redenbach, Tommy Murphy, Ian Meadows and Mandy McCarthy. Production began in February, with the series expected to air later this year. Spirited, Series 2
Rush, Series 4 

(Network Ten, second half 2011, 13 x 60 min)

Since 2008, Rush has established itself as an action-packed series with exceptional production values, winning the 2010 AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series and AFI Award for Best Direction in Television (Grant Brown). This year we can expect more breathtaking stunts and punchy emotional drama than ever before. Yet another Southern Star production, Rush stars Roger Corser, Callan Mulvey, Joelene Anderson, Nicole da Silva, Catherine McClements, Samuel Johnson, Ashley Zuckerman, Kevin Hofbauer and Josef Ber. Production will commence on the 13-part series mid-year. Directors include Andrew Prowse, Grant Brown, Daina Reid, Ben Chessell, Darren Ashton, Adrian Wills Rush won the AFI Awards for Best Television Drama Series and Best Direction in Television (Grant Brown) in 2010. Rush, Series 4
Underbelly: Razor  

(Channel Nine, late 2011, 13 x 60 min)

Following on from the Underbelly Files: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here; Infiltration and The Man Who Got Away, the new Underbelly series, Razor will hit screens later this year. Set in Sydney in the 1920s, Underbelly: Razor is the story of that bloody, decade-long, tit-for-tat rivalry between Tilly Devine, a sharp-tongued Cockney who ran a chain of 40 brothels, and her bitter rival Kate Leigh, an Aussie battler who’d built an empire out of sly grog, thieving and cocaine. Heading this series will be Danielle Cormack (Rake) as vice queen Leigh and Jack Campbell (All Saints) as Jim Devine, Tilly’s husband. Underbelly: Razor is produced by Screentime’s Peter Gawler and Elisa Argenzio. Underbelly: Razor
Killing Time 

(Foxtel – TV1, 2011, 10 x 60 min)

Fremantle Media’s Killing Time follows the true story of Andrew Fraser’s rise from small time lawyer to successfully defending the most infamous criminals this country has ever seen, and then his ultimate downfall and imprisonment for five years in maximum security. Written by Ian David (Blue Murder), Mac Gudgeon (Halifax) and Katherine Thompson (Satisfaction) and starring AFI Award winners David Wenham, Colin Friels and Anthony Hayes, Killing Time is one of the most eagerly anticipated series in years. Delayed by legal woes, the series will make its long-awaited debut on Foxtel’s TV1 later this year. Killing Time
Crownies 

(ABC1, 2011, 22 x 60 min)

Focusing on five eager young lawyers who work in the Department of Public Prosecution, Crownies is a 22-part drama produced by Screentime Australia for ABC TV. Fresh out of law school, the young solicitors work in a highly stressful and fast-paced environment, liaising with police, victims and witnesses of crime – as well as dealing with the moral and social dilemmas of single life. An ensemble cast includes relative newcomers Todd Lasance, Hamish Michael, Ella Scott Lynch, Andrea Demetriades and Indiana Evans, together with Marta Dusseldorp, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Jerome Ehlers and Jeanette Cronin. Crownies is written by Greg Haddrick, Jane Allen, Kylie Needham, Tamara Asmar, Blake Ayshford and Justine Gilmer. Directors include Tony Tilse, Chris Noonan, Cherie Nowlan and Grant Brown. The series is produced by Karl Zwicky with Carole Sklan, Des Monaghan and Greg Haddrick as executive producer. Crownies
Wild Boys 

(Seven Network, late 2011, 13 x 60 min)

Set in the 1850s, in a gold rush world of horses and bushrangers, this new colonial western will focus on a gang of four young men who stage holdups and struggle to stay one step ahead of the lawmen and the noose. Daniel MacPherson, Michael Dorman and David Field will star, alongside Zoe Ventura, who will play a single mother with a business to run. The Southern Star series is produced by Sarah Smith and Julie McGauran and will be filmed in NSW. Written by John Ridley, Jeffrey Truman, James Walker, Dave Warner, Michelle Offen and Margaret Wilson, Wild Boys will be directed by Arnie Custo, Chris Martin-Jones, Ian Watson, Jeffrey Walker and Ken Cameron. With production scheduled to begin now (March) the series is expected to air later this year.

Also Tracking: ABC’s Bed of Roses, Series 3; Channel Nine’s Rescue Special Ops, Series 3; Channel Nine telemovie Panic at Rock Islandand perhaps later in the year Steven Spielberg’s QLD-filmed time-travelling dinosaur adventure series Terra Nova. We’re also intrigued by the sound of The Straits, an ABC crime drama about a family of smugglers, set in the Torres Strait and Far North Queensland.

Comedy & Light Entertainment

Adam Hills in Gordon St Tonight 

(ABC1, currently screening, Wednesdays, 8:30pm)

This live weekly talk show is fast becoming an enjoyable Wednesday night appointment for those missing Spicks & Specks. Host Adam Hills is likeably naughty as he chats with a variety of guests and interacts with the studio and online. Clad in a dinner suit, Hannah Gadsby provides a nicely twisted version of Girl Friday as she assists Hills with pranks and props from the sidelines.  Visit the website for Adam Hills in Gordon St Tonight for heaps of extras and add-ons. Adam Hills in Gordon St Tonight
The Jesters, Series 2 

(Movie Extra, Tuesdays, 8:30pm, encore Saturdays)

Professing to “lift the skirts on the making of a TV comedy show”, The Jesters is back for another wry and often hilarious second series. Mentor and boss Dave Davies (Mick Molloy) wonders whether he’s created a monster by giving the young upstart comedians their own stunt-based show. Helped by his producer and right hand woman Kat (Emily Taheny) and Machiavellian network boss Julia (Susie Porter), Dave’s kept in check by his long-time agent and ego-stroker, Di (Deborah Kennedy). The Jesters, Series 2
Laid 

(Encore Screenings – ABC2, Wednesdays, 9:00pm, 6 x 30 min)

Haven’t been Laid yet? You better catch the repeats on ABC2 (Wednesdays, 9pm) and stand by for series two. Written by Marieke Hardy and Kirsty Fisher and produced by AFI Award winner Liz Watts (Animal Kingdom), Laid is a black romantic comedy about Roo McVie (Alison Bell), a woman whose sexual past catches up with her in the most unusual of ways. Co-stars include AFI Award winner Abe Forsythe (Marking Time). Laid
Woodley 

(ABC1, 2011, 8 x 30 min)

Comedian Frank Woodley (of Lano and Woodley fame) writes, produces and stars in this physical comedy about an exasperating 40-year-old man-child. He’s sharing custody of his eight-year-old daughter and trying to win back his long-suffering ex-wife (Justine Clarke), who has just started dating a local psychiatrist (Tom Long). Early indications suggest this will be hilarious and unique, a comic drama from one of our best contemporary clowns. Woodley
Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable 

(ABC1, 2011, 6 x 30 min)

Comedian Laurence Leung’s latest documentary series adventure is tipped to be Mythbusters meets Ghostbusters as he embarks on mind-bending quests to examine the irrational and the impossible. With his curious scientific research and somewhat ludicrous real-life experiments, Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable pokes fun at our own misconceptions and tests the limits of our beliefs.
The Gruen Transfer 

(ABC1, 2011)

Wil Anderson, Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson will be back later in the year with a brand new series of the 2010 AFI Award winner for Best Light Entertainment Television Series, The Gruen Transfer. Advertising executives beware! In the meantime, you can follow the Gruen Team on Twitter http://twitter.com/gruenhq The Gruen Transfer
Angry Boys 

(ABC1, 2011, 12 x 30 min)

2008 Byron Kennedy Award winner Chris Lilley will soon be back on our screens with his new mock doco series Angry Boys. Produced in association with HBO and BBC TV and shot in various locations across the globe, Lilley introduces us to a bunch of new and familiar characters as he explores what it means to be a boy in the 21st century, and all the angst, anger, anticipation and absurdity that comes with it. Angry Boys
Housos 

(SBS, mid-2011 TBC)

Multi Logie nominee Paul Fenech’s particular brand of irreverent humour was in full force in Pizza and Swift & Shift Couriers and garnered him a devoted fan base. His new series Housos, about the residents bikie gang living in a public housing estate, is set to continue Fenech’s penchant for biting parody and lampooning of ethnic stereotypes that will entertain many and ruffle a few feathers. The Housos cast will include Fenech, Anthony Salame, Angry Anderson, Ian Turpie and Amanda Keller. Housos
Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey 

(ABC1, mid 2011, 6 x 30 min)

Judith Lucy is lost. Now, ready or not, she’s going on a journey to find herself. This six-part series follows the droll and dry comedian Judith Lucy on a very personal path from devoutly religious child to determined young atheist to adult searching for something to believe in. She tries on different faiths for size, revealing what’s on offer for the spiritually curious, and reliving the hilarious, bizarre and profound moments in her life that have shaped who she is today. A co-production between ABC TV and Bearded Lady/Pretty Good Productions, this comedy/documentary is written by Judith Lucy, produced by Todd Abbott (Micallef Tonight, David Tench Tonight) with directors Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards) and Tony Martin (The Librarians, The Late Show). Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey
Outland 

(ABC1, mid 2011, 6 x 30 min)

Starring Christine Anu, Adam Richard, Ben Gerrard, Paul Ireland and Toby Truslove as the members of a gay science fiction fan club, Outland is a comedy series about their lives, loves and passion for the worlds of science fiction. Orbiting around their shambolic meetings at each other’s apartments, this is a series about how you cope if you’re gay and a geek. Filmed in Melbourne and produced by Princess Pictures – the same team behind the highly popular Summer Heights High and John Safran’s Race RelationsOutland is written by John Richards and Adam Richard and directed by Kevin Carlin (City Homicide, Packed to the Rafters). Outland
Hamish & Andy  

(Channel Nine, late 2011)

Details are being kept under wraps for the much anticipated show by radio kings, Hamish Blake and Andy Lee.  Having dominated the airwaves for the past 5 years, audiences wait to see what shape their foray back into television will take.  The show will be produced through their Radio Karate production company. Hamish & Andy
Twentysomething 

(ABC2, 2011, 6 x 30 min)

Created and starring Jess Harris (Hamish & Andy’s Real Stories, Rove) and Josh Schmidt (5 Lost at Sea) Twentysomething is the story of two best mates, Jess and Josh, who never went to uni, never had a clear talent, and never really had a drive to grow up. While their friends climb the corporate ladder and start settling down, Jess and Josh begin to tire of their dead-end jobs. They decide to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure. Produced by Nicole Minchin (Lowdown) and directed by Paul Currie, the comedy series also stars Hamish Blake as Jess’s on-again off-again crush, and Leah de Niese (Offspring) as another ‘back-up’ friend, Abby. Filmed in Melbourne in December and January, the series is expected to air later this year. Twentysomething

Also Tracking: SBS comedy spoof about 60s-era spies on a mission to kill Hitler in Danger 5; John Clarke’s The Games: London Calling (Channel Nine); Tony Martin and Ed Kavalee host a new Channel Nine discussion program The Joy of Sets, produced by Zapruder’s Other Films; and of course new series of SBS’ Rockwiz and ABC’s Spicks and Specks, which is returning after Easter.

Children’s Television

Go Lingo! 

(ABC3, premieres Monday, April 11, 11.25am)

New to ABC3 this April is the children’s game show Go Lingo! Each episode sees three contestants aged 11-12 battling it out to gain the most points while competing in a series of fun, hi-tech intellectual and physical games designed to test their spelling and grammar. If the website is anything to go by Go Lingo! sounds like a blast with a pit of oversized letters for the contestants to jump in to as well as digital basketball and paint ball to master. The show will also showcase Indigenous languages from around Australia with a segment titled ‘My Country’ and will be hosted by 19-year-old Torres Strait Islander Alannah Ahmat, who was selected after a nationwide search. Go Lingo!
Slide 

(Fox8, August 2011, 10 x 60 min)

Filmed in Brisbane, Fox8’s new teen drama Slide follows the unpredictable exploits of a group of teenagers as they prepare to face life after school. The 10-part drama will be produced by Playmaker Media and Hoodlum. Hoodlum has gained international recognition for US projects including Lost and Flash Forward. The cast of Slide features Gracie Gilbert (Lockie Leonard), Brenton Thwaites, Ben Schumann (Neighbours, Kick) , Adele Perovic and Emily Robins (The Elephant Princess, Shortland St.). The series is aimed at an audience of 17 to 25-year-olds and draws upon youth for its story development. Produced by David Maher (Supernova), Nathan Mayfield (Hard Choices, Fat Cow Motel), Tracey Robertson (Feeling Sexy, Fat Cow Motel), and David Taylor (Blood Brothers, Crash Palace). Slide
My Place, Series 2 

(ABC3, late 2011, 13 x 30 min)

Mischief and adventure continue to abound in My Place, winner of last year’s AFI Award for Best Children’s Television Drama and co-winner of the 2011 international KidScreen Awards . Produced by multi AFI Award winner Penny Chapman (RAN, The Road from Coorain) from Matchbox Pictures, the story is based on the acclaimed book by Nadia Wheatley, about several generations of Australian children who have lived in the same place for over 130 years. The second series is written and directed by well known Australian talent including; Rachel Ward (Beautiful Kate), Wayne Blair (Lockie Leonard), Catriona McKenzie (The Circuit), Sam Lang (Monkey’s Mask), Greg Waters (Dance Academy), Nick Parsons (Dead Heart), Alice Addison (RAN), John Alsop (RAN, Brides of Christ), Dallas Winmar (Aliwa!), Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) and Michael James Rowland (The Last Confession Of Alexander Pearce). My Place, Series 2
Dance Academy, Series 2 

(ABC3, late 2011, 26 x 30 min)

Tara (Xenia Goodwin) returns to the National Academy of Dance with the goal of representing Australia in the world’s most prestigious ballet competition. But perhaps she should be more focused on just surviving Second Year, where having climbed to the top in her first year at the Academy – in dance, in life, in love – she now has a very long way to fall. The highest rated drama on ABC last year, and co-winner of the 2011 international KidScreen Awards, Dance Academy has also been shortlisted for the 2011 NSW Premier’s Script Writing Award. Produced by two-time AFI Award nominee Joanna Werner (Bring it On Again, H20: Just Add Water), the show also stars Tara Morice (Strictly Ballroom), Alicia Banit (Summer Heights High), Dena Kaplan (City Homicide, The Flight of the Conchords), and Tom Green (Emerald Falls).

Also Tracking: a brand new 3D animated series of Bananas in Pyjamas; the ABC’s hugely popular Australian version of Prank Patrol; and a second series of the inventive children’s animation series The Adventures of Figaro Pho (from AFI Award winner Luke Jurevicius).

Reviews Wrap

A taste of what the reviewers said this about this week’s Australian releases…

Griff the InvisibleGriff the Invisible Key Art
The sweetly odd superhero romance got the thumbs up from At the Movies host Margaret Pomeranz, who was almost moved to tears, saying “this film is a rarity in this country, it’s a romance, and it’s a beautiful one.” David Stratton wasn’t quite so affected, but admitted to warming to the film, especially the standout performance by Maeve Dermody. Giles Hardie over at the Age writes that “Griff The Invisible‘s greatest superpower is to reclaim the word quirky for the forces of good”, while Empire’s Zach Gibson likes the fact that the film’s love story goes deeper than lycra. The Vine’s Clem Bastow offers an insightful and rather lovely four star review, describing Griff as “an exploration of the collision between dreams and delusions, between loneliness and love.”

The Reef
Andrew Traucki’s shark-attack thriller struck all the right notes with reviewers, who may never go snorkelling again. Filmink’s Erin Free called it “a tidy excercise in minimalist terror, proving that you don’t need much money to create a piece of cinema that really works.” Luke Buckmaster over at Cinetology describes the film as “an unnerving winner: tense, twitchy and frighteningly entertaining.” Julie Rigg, from Radio National’s Movie Time has special praise for the film’s actors and the challenges they faced working at water level.

A Heartbeat Away
A brass band, a country town, and father-son conflict that all climaxes in a musical competition – A Heartbeat Away may find its audience in fans of films like Brassed Off but reviews have been lukewarm so far. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Sandra Hall nevertheless gave the film three stars, and writes that Edwards “brings a theatrically ornate style to the job with an emphasis on backlighting and the use of the soulful montage.” Empire’s Ed Gibbs also gives three stars, but notes the “respectable cast does enjoy the ride, but isn’t sufficiently stretched.”

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? Want to point us to your own reviews or blogs? Feel free to do so, and discussion is welcome, but imagine you’re at the cinema: throw jaffas at the screen or crush ice-cream into the seats and we’ll usher you out.