Archive for the ‘TV’ category


Remakes: Widows joins other Euston Films series

04.11.2018

I see British filmmaker Steve McQueen has remade Lynda La Plante’s Widows.
   I was younger than he was when it aired, and didn’t appreciate the storylines to the same extent, though I have recollections of it.
   What I did recall was a Smith and Jones sketch, which had a voiceover along these lines: ‘From the makers of The Sweeney and Minder, Eusless Films presents Widows: exactly the same, but with women in it.’
   The reality was that La Plante wrote Widows because she was unimpressed with how men wrote female parts in scripts (she was the actress Lynda Marchal, and I still remember a small role she had in The Professionals). It was actually ground-breaking. Verity Lambert produced.
   I hope McQueen does well with his remake, with Viola Davis, and the setting shifted to Chicago.
   I worry a bit given that Hollywood also remade Edge of Darkness or State of Play: pretty decent miniseries that weren’t as good when transplanted and turned into feature films, according to period reviews.
   I saw the former and while it was a pacy actioner, even as far as employing the same New Zealand director, Martin Campbell, it lacked the depth and suspense of the original; I daren’t even see the latter as the original remains one of my favourite miniseries and I don’t want to see it butchered, even if Scottish director Kevin Macdonald helmed it. It was a wave of American efforts to remake anything with John Simm and Philip Glenister.
   But tonight I did think about the other famous Euston Films series that were remade or reimagined.
   The Sweeney was remade but with the action still in South London. The 2012 version by Nick Love had a tight budget but plenty of violence, perhaps recapturing the grittiness that audiences would have felt when they first saw the Armchair Cinema special of Regan. Ray Winstone, who guested on the original, took the lead, and channelled Jack Regan well; Ben Drew (Plan B) had even more of a coldness and wild tension on screen as George Carter than Dennis Waterman did. It’s perhaps best known for a car chase involving the crew from Top Gear, who took the opportunity to build a sketch around it during production. It wasn’t as special as the original, and I didn’t rush to repeat the DVD. Reviewers didn’t like it, but in my opinion it ranks above Sweeney!, the first attempt to turn the TV series into a silver screen film but using the original cast. There, we saw countless acts of violence explained away at the end in one meeting with Thaw and Michael Latimer’s characters after a plot that seemed to build up a complex conspiracy. Sweeney 2, by Troy Kennedy Martin (the brother of the creator), was far tenser and the better effort, and it was fun to spot the Ford press fleet vehicles with the VHK prefix on the number plates.

   Minder never went to the big screen, but a remake, or sequel, appeared in 2009, with Shane Richie and Lex Shrapnel. I sat through the first, found it tolerable, and at least in the spirit of the original, but it always felt like an imitation trying to live up to its forebear, not something that carved its own direction. Many don’t seem to remember that Minder was created as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, not George Cole, even if more and more scripts wound up focusing on the latter’s Arthur Daley, leading to Waterman quitting the series. The 2009 series’ première followed on from that later formula, whereas to me it always required the two stars being on par with each other.

   So, will the Americanized Widows follow suit? Will it be ‘exactly the same, but with women in it,’ or, with McQueen as talented as he is, will it be a solid retelling with the same sense of ambiguity at the conclusion as the original? I might have to see it because of McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and McQueen says he has been a fan of the series since he saw it as a teenager. Even the original Dolly Rawlins (Ann Mitchell) has a cameo.
   Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?

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Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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A letter from composer Terry Gray, 1991

18.07.2018

What a coincidence to come across a letter from composer, arranger, conductor and former TVNZ bandleader Terry Gray, dated May 25, 1991, after I blogged about him on (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing. Here it is for others who may be interested in a little slice of Kiwi life. It looks like ITC Garamond Book Narrow here, though the resolution doesn’t make it very clear.

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In memoriam, Terry Gray, British-born New Zealand composer, 1940–2011

09.07.2018

I sincerely hope I’m wrong when I say that the passing of Kiwi composer, arranger and conductor Terry Gray went unnoticed in our news media.
   I only found out last month that Terry died in 2011. As a kid of the 1970s and a teenager of the 1980s, Terry’s music was a big part of my life. Before we got to New Zealand, he had already composed the Chesdale cheese jingle, which Kiwis above a certain age know. He was the bandleader on Top Dance, what New Zealanders used to watch before the localized version of Strictly. Terry’s music appeared on variety shows and live events (e.g. Telequest, Miss New Zealand) through the decade. Country GP, The Fire-Raiser, Peppermint Twist, and Daphne and Chloë were also among Terry’s works. In the late 1980s, Terry released an album, Solitaire, which was one of the first LPs I bought with my own money as a teen. By the turn of the decade, Terry hosted live big band evenings at the Plaza Hotel in Wellington, sponsored by the AM Network—until the AM Network could no longer fund the fun, regular events and the radio network itself, eventually, vanished. Terry’s Mum used to attend in those days, and I must have gone to at least half a dozen. I also picked up a Top Dance cassette at one of the evenings.
   I still have a nice letter from Terry somewhere, thanking me for my support, in the days when he lived in the Hutt. I learned that he eventually moved down south, to Dunedin, and died of leukemia on July 8, 2011.
   On (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing, I want to pay tribute to Terry. Here he is in action in Top Dance, hosted by Lindsay Yeo, in 1982.

   RIP Terry Gray, 1940–2011.

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The maternity ward of the early 1980s was a very different place

24.06.2018


Virginia McMillan/Creative Commons

Now the PM and her partner, Clarke Gayford, have shown off their daughter to the world (video at the end of this post), it reminded me of my own experiences in the maternity ward many years ago.
   I’m not a parent at the time of writing: I’m talking about the 1980s when I visited Wellington Women’s Hospital (as it then was), to wait for my Mum, a postnatal midwife, to finish work.
   The 1980s don’t seem that long ago to me, and all these memories are still very clear, but when you relay the story, you realize decades have passed.
   Mum shifted to WWH in 1980, when it first opened, and I still recall having a preview tour of the building before it opened. New carpets, new fixtures. Hand-held buzzers hooked up to the wall where you could call for a nurse—how modern! The 1980s had well and truly arrived, and how lucky of those patients, because this place was like a hotel. We really did think it was that flash in 1980.
   And it was a nice place to visit. I finished school at St Mark’s at 2.45 p.m. and the bus would usually get to the hospital by around 3 p.m. There was a long walk to the building at the back, taking an internal route, and walking through a basement tunnel with painted stripes—it felt like a science-fiction movie. I’d get to Ward 15 and I was expected to wait in the TV room.
   The TV room was next to the ‘day room’, which really meant the smoking room, where new Mums could pop in and have a fag. Every now and then, you’d get a naughty new mother who’d take an ashtray into the TV room, where I’d be waiting, but we are talking the early 1980s, and the term secondhand smoke had not entered the vernacular.
   Of course, we youngsters weren’t allowed to change the channel if adults were watching. Unfortunately, in the days of two state-run channels, most new mothers would watch Prisoner, and I don’t mean The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan. I meant the Australian soap opera Prisoner, set in a women’s prison, and known to British readers as Prisoner: Cell Block H. I could never comprehend why anyone would watch the sheer misery of the storylines about a women’s prison, but I suppose in the early 1980s, these ladies were thinking: ‘No matter how tough things are for me, at least I’m not in Wentworth.’ I would wait patiently for 3.30 p.m. to tick by, and Lynne Hamilton singing ‘On the Inside’ (itself a depressing, haunting theme tune) and the Grundy logo were signs that relief was coming. However, to this day, I still know this blasted song, and can play it by ear on a piano. Without checking online:

On the inside the roses grow,
They don’t mind the stony ground.
But the roses there are prisoners, too,
When morning comes around.

   Only once do I remember a Mum offering me control of the TV during the Prisoner hour to watch whatever channel I wanted, and of course, that meant the children’s programming, eventually an after-school show imaginatively titled After School, hosted by a cheerful Te Reo-speaking man called Olly Ohlson.
   Mum would be another 15 to 30 minutes, so my time in front of the telly was fairly limited. We’d walk home to Newtown in those days, and my memory of that journey home was that it was often sunny. Of course, that couldn’t have been the case, as I have equally strong memories of below-zero temperatures on the radio in the morning in 1981, and very grey weather watching Springbok tour marches (including fights between protesters and police officers) outside my window growing up. Those may or may not be the subject of another blog entry, as I’m not traditionally one to post childhood reminiscences on this blog.

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UK picks on independent Tweeters, falsely calls them Russian bots and trolls

23.04.2018

If you were one of the people caught up with ‘The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!’ and a selection of Cold War paranoia resurrected by politicians and the media, then surely recent news would make you start to think that this was a fake-news narrative?
   Ian56 on Twitter was recently named by the UK Government as a Russian bot, and Twitter temporarily suspended his account.
   He recently fronted up to the Murdoch Press’s Sky News, which a bot actually couldn’t.
   To be a Russian bot, you need to be (a) Russian and (b) a bot. The clue’s in the title.

   If the British Government would like to understand what a bot looks like, I can log in to my Facebook and send them a dozen to investigate. They are remarkably easy to find.
   It would be easy to identify bots on Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t like getting shown up. But Ian56 has never been caught up in that, because he’s human.
   His only “crime”, as far as I can see, is thinking for himself. Then he used his right to free speech to share those thoughts.
   He’s also British, and proud of his country—which is why he calls out what he sees are lies by his own government.
   And if there is hyperbole on his Twitter account, the ones which the Sky News talking heads tried to zing him with, it’s no worse than what you see on there every day by private citizens. If that’s all they could find out of Ian56’s 157,000 Tweets, then he’s actually doing better than the rest of us.
   We seem to be reaching an era where the establishment is upset that people have the right to free speech, but that is what all this technology has offered: democratization of communication. Something that certain media talking heads seem to get very offended by, too.
   Ian’s not alone, because Murdoch’s The Times is also peddling the Russian narrative and named a Finnish grandmother as a ‘Russian troll’ and part of a Russian disinformation machine.

   I’ve followed Citizen Halo for a long time, and she’s been perfectly open about her history. Her account was set up nine years ago, long before some of the Internet Research Agency’s social media activity was reported to have begun. She’s been anti-war since Vietnam, and her Tweets reflect that.
   While she sees no insult in being labelled Russian (she openly admits to some Russian ancestry) she takes exception at being called a troll, which she, again, isn’t. She also wasn’t ‘mobilised’ as The Times claims to spread news about the air strikes in Syria. She and Ian questioned the veracity of mainstream media views, and they certainly weren’t the only ones. They just happen to be very good at social media. That doesn’t make you part of a Russian disinformation machine.
   As a result of The Times’s article, Citizen Halo has gained a couple of thousand followers.
   Meanwhile, Craig Murray, who ‘went from being Britain’s youngest ambassador to being sacked for opposing the use of intelligence from torture’ also sees similar attacks in the UK, again through The Times.
   It headlined, ‘Apologists for Assad working in universities’. Murray adds:

Inside there was a further two page attack on named academics who have the temerity to ask for evidence of government claims over Syria, including distinguished Professors Tim Hayward, Paul McKeigue and Piers Robinson. The Times also attacked named journalists and bloggers and, to top it off, finished with a column alleging collusion between Scottish nationalists and the Russian state.

   The net goes wider, says Murray, with the BBC and The Guardian joining in the narrative. On Ian, Murray noted:

The government then issued a ridiculous press release branding decent people as “Russian bots” just for opposing British policy in Syria. In a piece of McCarthyism so macabre I cannot believe this is really happening, an apparently pleasant and normal man called Ian was grilled live on Murdoch’s Sky News, having been named by his own government as a Russian bot.

The Guardian published the government line without question.
   It does appear that in 2018, all you need to do is think independently and exercise your right to free speech for the UK Government and the media to sell a conspiracy theory.
   That, if anything, begins weakening the official narrative.
   Like most people, I do take in some of the news that I get fed. Yet this activity is having the opposite effect of what the establishment wants, forcing tenuous links usually associated with gossip sites and tabloids. If you had trust in these institutions before, you may now rightly be questioning why.

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Business as usual at Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg comes forth, tells us nothing we didn’t already know

22.03.2018

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg came out and made a statement on Facebook that had no apology (though he gave a personal one later on CNN) and, at a time when people demanded transparency, he continued with opaqueness.
   First, he told us nothing we didn’t already know about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
   Secondly, he avoided the most pressing points.
   No mention that Facebook had covered this up for two years. No explanation of why he failed to answer journalists about this for two years. No explanation on why Facebook tried to gag the story in The Observer by threatening legal action. No mention that it had failed, by law, to report a data breach that it knew about.
   From the clips I saw on CNN, Zuckerberg claims he wants to restrict access to developers, and he still doesn’t know if there are other Cambridge Analyticas out there. Nothing about Facebook gathering more and more data on you and using it improperly themselves, which has actually been an ongoing issue. From the clips online provided by CNN, it wasn’t a hard-hitting interview, with the journalist going very easy on the milliardaire in what amounted to a puff piece. I really hope there was more meat than what we were shown, given how much ammo there is.
   The site has countless more failings, including its bots and its bugs, but I’ve mentioned them before.
   I’m unimpressed and for once, the market agreed, with shares dipping 2·7 per cent after Zuckerberg’s first comments in the wake of the scandal.
   However, CNN Money thinks Cambridge Analytica is an anomaly, even when Facebook’s own boss says they are still to ‘make sure’ whether there are other firms out there in the same boat. ‘We’re going to go now and investigate every app that has access to a large amount of information.’ In other words, it hasn’t been done, and yet Facebook knew about this since 2015.
   In other words, the world is seeing what I and others have talked about for years: Facebook is irresponsible, it does nothing till it’s embarrassed into it, and it collects a lot of data on you even after you’ve opted out of certain features on their site.
   Not a lot has changed since 2009, when he gave this interview with the BBC. Say one thing, do another.

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Happy 40th birthday to The Professionals

30.12.2017

‘Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I’ve got special men: experts from the army, the police, from every service. These are the professionals.’

   Forty years ago, ITV began airing one of the UK’s most iconic TV series.
   There’s more at Dave Matthews’ The Authorised Guide to the Professionals, to which I contributed many years ago (yes, I am a fan).
   While there are many quality shows today, The Professionals still holds up reasonably well in terms of action, music, lighting and cinematography (especially if you see the series as restored on Network’s latest set of DVDs), though some of the plots are lacking and there are a lot of outdated 1970s’ attitudes to gender equality and race.
   If you keep that in mind—that it is a product of its era—it’s still an enjoyable show, in part because of my own sense of nostalgia (has it really been forty years?). And the second and third seasons are still, in my opinion, Brian Clemens’ finest hour.

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Behind the scenes

16.10.2017

Agent: Yes, that’s correct, we promise we can find you a job, no matter what.
Applicant: That’s great! You can help me?
Agent: Of course. Now, let’s look at your academic transcript.
The Agent studiously examines the transcript.
Agent: Oh, dear, this isn’t very good.
Applicant: Um …
Agent: It says you have a very poor average, that you scored 16 per cent in your university exams.
Applicant: Yes, but when I came in here, you promised you would find me a job!
Agent: But …
Applicant: You promised!
The Agent reflects on what he told the Applicant earlier in the session.
Agent: I might just have something. It’s for one of the specialists on a New Zealand version of a TV show. It’s called Married at First Sight. Are you interested, sir?
Applicant: Call me Tony.

Originally published on my Blogcozy blog.

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Drivetribe will be a mecca for motorheads—Autocade readers welcome

22.11.2016

Now that the first episode of The Grand Tour has aired, and we’re nearing the official launch of Drivetribe (November 28), we’re beginning to see just how good an investment £160 million was for Amazon when it picked up the cast of The Goodies, I mean, Top Gear (sorry, I get those BBC shows mixed up, and they do have the same initials), along with producer Andy Wilman (who himself presented Top Gear segments many years ago, but we are now spared his nude scenes).
   Essentially, you can’t do a show these days without an internet community, so what did the four men do? Create their own. They’ve put their money into Drivetribe, which has attracted an eight-figure investment from additional parties, chief among which is 21st Century Fox—that’s right, Rupert Murdoch. Amazon’s reportedly quite happy with the arrangement—and it certainly helps boost their show.
   There are already signs that Drivetribe is going to succeed as a motoring portal–social network, for those of us who have been playing with it. Maybe the Murdoch Press has learned from Myspace? Or, it’s put their money in, but it’s letting experts do their job–among whom is none other than Cate Sevilla, formerly of Buzzfeed UK, and whose blog I followed even before she arrived in the UK the good part of a decade ago. It isn’t a surprise that Cate would do well in social media—she had a knack for it, even back then.
   Car enthusiasts were invited to pitch their ideas for tribes some months back, recognizing that we’re not all the same. Additionally, there’s a bunch of us who work in some aspect of the industry, and looking through the tribes, we’re the ones whose ideas have been adopted. For those of you who use Autocade, there’s one linked to that very venture.
   As many of you who follow this blog know, I founded Autocade in 2008, a car encyclopædia that wouldn’t have the fictions of Wikipedia (or ‘Wikiality’, as Stephen Colbert calls it). Eventually, I succumbed to modern marketing trends and very lately started a Facebook page on it, at least to post some behind-the-scenes thinking and publicity photos. While it proved all right, my blog posts were here and things were all over the place.
   When I first proposed doing a Drivetribe tribe many months ago, I centred it around the marketing of cars, and the result, the Global Motorshow, can be found here. And now that it’s started, it’s become clear that I can put all the content in one place and have it appreciated by other motorheads. In a week and a half it’s grown to about a third of the following of the Facebook page, and Drivetribe hasn’t even officially launched yet. Those members are either other tribe leaders or those who signed up early on. The question must be asked: why on earth would I bother continuing with Facebook?
   In addition to Cate, Drivetribe is not faceless. The support crew respond, and there are humans working here. I’m impressed with how quickly they get back to us, and how the site is reasonably robust. On all these points, Drivetribe is the opposite of Facebook.
   Granted, I don’t know the other members there, and some I only know through reputation. But then I didn’t know a lot of the people I now find familiar on Facebook car groups. Nor did I know the people on Vox back in 2006, or some of the folks at Blogcozy in 2016. Communities build up, often thanks to common interests, and here’s one that already has a massive online community ready to flock to it. Having three celebrities helps, too, and all three Grand Tour presenters post to the site.
   If you’re interested, the scope of the Global Motorshow (originally without the definite article, but when I saw the GM initials in the icon, I rethought it) is a bit wider than Autocade. I thought it might be fun to post some of the marketing materials we come across, the odd industry analyses that have appeared at this blog (updated in some cases), and even commercial vehicles, which aren’t part of Autocade. I’ve chosen to keep the tribe public, so anyone can post if they find something interesting. Let’s hope Drivetribe can keep the spammers at bay: something that the old Vox.com failed to do, and Facebook is desperately failing to do now as well.
   Come November 28, we’ll know just how good things are looking, but I’m erring on the side of the positive—something I was not prepared to do for sites such as Ello or Google Plus.

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