Posts tagged ‘actors’


A look back at 2015: a year that was harder to laugh at

20.12.2015

I’ve done this a few times now: looked through my year’s Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, I’m not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
   January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiot’s guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
   February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, ‘Seriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.’ Mission: Impossible’s second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
   Citroën celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm für Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: ‘there are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:

And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads ‘South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye’. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.

   In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal ’quakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
   In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:

   In July, rape complaints against actor Bill Cosby reached fever pitch as woman after woman came out with credible and very similar stories. Staying Stateside, one writer said of the GOP primaries: ‘It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump.’ A Sydney man, who allegedly insulted then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, inspired the internet public to raise funds for him to beat the fine.
   In September, Doctor Who returned to telly for its 35th season, while Facebook continued to be overwhelmed by bots, mostly based around hacked Korean accounts. A young Briton, Connie Talbot, released a cover version of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, the theme from the James Bond film Spectre, which I regarded as superior to the original.
   In October, US Senator Bernie Sanders answered the question, ‘Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?’ He responded, ‘Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail. Or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China.’
   As we neared the year’s end, I wrote a blog post, uncharacteristically published both on my Tumblr and here, on how a pharmaceutical company would release a Daraprim competitor for US$1 a pill, after the company behind Daraprim raised its price from US$13·50 to US$750. That was before Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was arrested in an investigation that began in 2014. I did one post noting what my Dad had begun forgetting because of his newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, with the intent of following up, out of solidarity with another other caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers. November, too, saw Paris’s second major terrorist attack, and Astérix illustrator Albert Uderzo contributed this touching image:

Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
   In December, it wasn’t quite ‘Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars’. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy ‘started out as a comedy and is turning into a documentary’. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, ‘The only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. That’s all. That’s it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.’ The New Zealand flag referendum didn’t make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and white—a reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
   It’s not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but it’s also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levity—my humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instance—were few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that you’ll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?

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Alarm für Cobra 11 changes direction again, with Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner

18.08.2015
First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

Poor Vinzenz Kiefer. The co-star of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, which commemorates its 20th anniversary next year, will be written out of the show, and not by his choice.
   Since the departure of Tom Beck as Ben Jäger a few years ago, the producers of the long-running German action series decided to take a darker turn. Cobra 11 has always been able to reinvent itself with the times, hence the long run, and the light comedy that crept in to such awful episodes as ‘Babyalarm’ or the predictable “bad guys with automatic weapons” plots of ‘Codename Tiger’ (which even had a homage to Michael Bay) was deemed to be at odds with what viewers wanted. Out with Beck. In with Kiefer, a grittier looking young actor who had had a single guest outing in Cobra 11 some years earlier in another role, as a troubled young offender called Dennis Kortmann out to avenge the death of his younger brother.
   The new character of Alex Brandt (incredibly close in name to Kommissar Rex’s Alex Brandtner, played by another short-lived Cobra 11 co-star, Gedeon Burkhard) seemed tailor-made for Kiefer, now 37, a deep, highly talented actor. Brandt had a back-story, caught amongst corrupt police officers which saw him go to prison, something that Cobra 11 producers tried to inject in the mid-2000s when Gedeon Burkhard replaced the ever-popular Réné Steinke. The writers and story editors introduced story threads that spanned the whole season. It was all in keeping with the Zeitgeist, but, ratings dropped, despite a spectacular season finalé inspired by Vantage Point but much more cleverly executed within the 45-minute running time. We finally saw some acting chops from the entire cast: star Erdoğan Atalay got to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as family man and cop Semir Gerkhan, and there was even a hint of “will they or won’t they?” between Brandt and Katrin Heß’s Jenny Dorn—who had previously been in a relationship with Niels Kurvin’s Hartmut Freund character. Yet on occasion, Alarm für Cobra 11 was even beaten by Germany’s Next Top Model, a show which it usually trumped. And Kiefer is the fall guy.
   Burkhard, too, presided over what was considered a darker, moodier season of Cobra 11 in 2007–8, yet ratings fell, and he was given the axe.
   It’s a given that the reinventions help the series, but the obsession with ratings has meant Cobra 11 returning to a level of humour and escapism each time the network, RTL, panics. In a Facebook poll this author set up with 786 respondents, fans regard Tom Beck as the best co-star (565 votes), with Kiefer a distant second (116). Old stars such as Steinke still hold up (67) despite their departure nearly a decade ago.
   Why ‘poor Vinzenz Kiefer’? Today, his successor, Daniel Roesner (top) was announced, which means Kiefer has to complete and, later, promote his work knowing that Alex Brandt may well be killed off (the fate of less popular co-stars) and that he’s on his way out. Alex Brandt may be the gloomy, moody DCI, but behind-the-scenes photos shared by Atalay and Heß show that there are plenty of hijinks, with everyone getting on well. Heß posted her sadness at the announcement her colleague would be given the boot on Instagram and Facebook, and Atalay ceased posting to his social media altogether (although whether that was the reason is unknown).
   Roesner has the ingredients for the escapist audience: he excels in light comedy, he has a friendlier face, and he is already known to Cobra 11 audiences for playing Tacho, whom we first met in 2010 while at the police academy. His character, along with Axel Stein’s Turbo, was so popular that he was brought back for a second guest spot in 2011, and Action Concept, the makers of the series, attempted a TV pilot called Turbo und Tacho, where it is revealed that his full name is Andreas Tachinski.
   Roesner won’t be playing Tachinski this time; instead, after a haircut and a new wardrobe, he’ll be playing a cop called Paul Renner, and whether he designed Futura or not while working at the Bauhaus has not yet been explained. His presence will likely see a return to the escapist, self-contained scripts, with the characters turning more two-dimensional again.
   Beck’s years proved that the show can rebound, but the past two with Kiefer gained him a loyal following, too. The core may well want escapism but Kiefer probably brought viewers who could leave; assuming they knew Cobra 11 had transformed to begin with. Do we want our TV heroes to be light while things are tough; or do we want them to reflect the hard times we have today? Whether RTL has calculated correctly or not will be seen when Roesner’s episodes start with the 20th anniversary of the series; but it will be looking to reclaim the Thursday night prime-time slot more regularly than Cobra 11 has been doing in the last year. Expect huge promotions for the 20th—and to establish Roesner in the new role as RTL attempts to get its audience back.

This piece first appeared in Lucire Men.

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A year of random thoughts: 2014 in review

29.12.2014

For the last few years, I’ve looked back at the events of the year in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. (In fact, in 2009, I looked back at the decade.) Tumblr’s the place I look at these days for these summaries, since it tends to have my random thoughts, ones complemented by very little critical thinking. They tell me what piqued my interest over the year.
   These days, I’ve been posting more about the TV show I watch the most regularly, the German Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. A good part of my Tumblr, at least, and of Danielle Carey’s, whom I first connected with via this blog, features screen shots and other photographs from it. But Cobra 11 aside—and for those “cultured” Germans who tell me it’s the worst show on their telly, may I remind you that you still make Das Traumschiff?—I still will be influenced by everyday events.
   So what do I spy?
   Sadly, despite my intent in wanting to blog humorously, it turns out that 2014 doesn’t necessarily give us a lot to laugh about. And we’ve had over a year after that Mayan calendar gag, and 13 years after Y2K. It’s still not time to laugh yet.

January
I made a spoof English Hustle poster given all the hype about American Hustle, which seems to have, prima facie, the same idea. It meets with Adrian Lester’s approval (well, he said, ‘Ha,’ which I gather is positive).

   I post about Idris Elba giving a response about the James Bond character. (Slightly ahead of my time, as it turns out.)
   Robert Catto wrote of Justin Bieber’s arrest: ‘So, J. Biebs is arrested for racing a rented Lamborghini in a residential neighbourhood while under the influence (of drugs and alcohol) while on an expired license, resisting arrest, and a bunch of previous stuff including egging a neighbour’s house. With that many accusations being thrown at him, this can only mean one thing.
   ‘The race for Mayor of Toronto just got interesting.’
   I wrote to a friend, ‘If there was a Facebook New Zealand Ltd. registered here then it might make more sense ensuring that there were fewer loopholes for that company to minimize its tax obligations, but the fact is there isn’t. Either major party would be better off encouraging New Zealand to be the head office for global corporations, or encourage good New Zealand businesses to become global players, if this was an issue (and I believe that it is). There is this thing called the internet that they may have heard of, but both parties have seen it as the enemy (e.g. the whole furore over s. 92A, first proposed by Labour, enacted by National).
   ‘Right now, we have some policy and procedural problems preventing us from becoming more effective exporters.
   ‘It’s no coincidence that I took an innovation tack in my two mayoral campaigns. If central government was too slow in acting to capture or create these players, then I was going to do it at a local level.’
   And there are $700 trillion (I imagine that means $700 billion, if you used the old definitions—12 zeroes after the 700) worth of derivatives yet to implode, according to I Acknowledge. Global GDP is $69·4 (American) trillion a year. ‘This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.’

February
The Sochi Olympics: in Soviet Russia, Olympics watch you! Dmitry Kozak, the deputy PM, says that westerners are deliberately sabotaging things there. How does he know? ‘We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.’
   Sports Illustrated does an Air New Zealand safety video.
   This was the month I first saw the graphic containing a version of these words: ‘Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals, who never spoke English, was not an American citizen, a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer (yes he was Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty but never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex, a man who never justified torture, who never called the poor “lazy”, who never asked a leper for a co-pay, who never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, who was a long haired, brown skinned (that’s in revelations), homeless, middle eastern Jew? Of course, that’s only if you believe what’s actually in the Bible’ (sic). For those who want a response, this blog post answers the points from a Catholic point of view, but the original quote’s not completely off-base.

March
My friend Dmitry protests in Moskva against Russia’s actions in the Crimea. This was posted on this blog at the time. He reports things aren’t all rosy in Russia when it comes to free speech.
   Another friend, Carolyn Enting, gets her mug in the Upper Hutt Leader after writing her first fictional book, The Medallion of Auratus.
   MH370 goes missing.
   And this great cartoon, called ‘If Breaking Bad Had Been Set in the UK’:

April
I call Lupita Nyong’o ‘Woman of the Year 2014’.
   A post featuring Robin Williams (before that horrible moment in August), where he talks about the influence of Peter Sellers and Dr Strangelove on him. I seem to have posted a lot of Robin that month, from his CBS TV show, The Crazy Ones.
   A Lancastrian reader, Gerald Vinestock, writes to The Times: ‘Sir, Wednesday’s paper did not have a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge. I do hope she is all right.’
   A first post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1987’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

   The fiftieth anniversary of the on-sale date of the Ford Mustang (April 17).
   The death of Bob Hoskins. Of course I had to post his last speech in The Long Good Friday, as well as the clip from Top Gear where Richard Hammond mistook Ray Winstone for Hoskins. They all look the same to me.

May
Judith Collins’ story about what she was doing in China with Oravida collapses.
   Someone points out there is a resemblance between Benedict Cumberbatch and Butthead from Beavis and Butthead.

   Jean Pisani Ferry’s view on the origins of the euro crisis in The Economist: ‘Suppose that the crisis had begun, as it might easily have done, in Ireland? It would then have been obvious that fiscal irresponsibility was not the culprit: Ireland had a budget surplus and very low debt. More to blame were economic imbalances, inflated property prices and dodgy bank loans. The priority should not have been tax rises and spending cuts, but reforms to improve competitiveness and a swift resolution of troubled banks, including German and French ones, that lent so irresponsibly.’

June
British-born Tony Abbott says he doesn’t like immigration, or some such.
   This humorous graphic, made before the launch of the five-door Mini, on how the company could extend its range:

   Sir Ian McKellen says, ‘Did I want to go and live in New Zealand for a year? As it turns out, I was very happy that I did. I can’t recommend New Zealand strongly enough. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place, quite unlike [the] western world. It’s in the southern hemisphere and it’s far, far away and although they speak English, don’t be fooled. They’re not like us. They’re something better than us.’
   Lots of Alarm für Cobra 11 posts.

July
Sopheak Seng’s first Lucire cover, photographed by Dave Richards, and with a fantastic crew: hair by Michael Beel, make-up by Hil Cook, modelled by Chloé Graham, and with some layout and graphic design by Tanya Sooksombatisatian and typography by me.

   Liam Fitzpatrick writes of Hong Kong, before the Occupy protests, ‘Hong Kongers—sober, decent, pragmatic and hardworking—are mostly not the sort of people who gravitate to the barricades and the streets. Neither do they need to be made aware of the political realities of having China as a sovereign power, for the simple fact that postwar Hong Kong has only ever existed with China’s permission. In the 1960s, the local joke was that Mao Zedong could send the British packing with a mere phone call.
   ‘With that vast, brooding power lying just over the Kowloon hills, tiny Hong Kong’s style has always been to play China cleverly—to push where it can (in matters such as education and national-security legislation, where it has won important battles) and to back off where it cannot.’
   It didn’t seem completely prescient.

August
The General Election campaign: National billboards are edited.
   Doctor Who goes on tour prior to Peter Capaldi’s first season in the lead role.
   The suicide of Robin Williams.
   Michael Brown is killed. Greg Howard writes, ‘There was Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., and so many more. Michael Brown’s death wasn’t shocking at all. All over the country, unarmed black men are being killed by the very people who have sworn to protect them, as has been going on for a very long time now …
   ‘There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.’
   Like so many things, such a statement of fact became politicized in months to come.
   Darren Watson releases ‘Up Here on Planet Key’, only to have it banned by the Electoral Commission. With his permission, I did a spoken-word version.
   Journalist Nicky Hager, who those of us old enough will remember was a right-wing conspiracy theorist, is branded a left-wing conspiracy theorist by the PM because this time, he wrote about National and not Labour. The Deputy PM, Bill English, who commended Hager’s work 12 years ago over Seeds of Distrust, and even quoted from it, remained fairly quiet.
   It wasn’t atypical. I wrote in one post, ‘In 2011, Warren Tucker said three times in one letter that he told PM John Key about the SIS release. Now he says he only told his office but not the PM personally—after an investigation was announced (when the correct protocol would be to let the investigation proceed) …
   ‘Key did not know about GCSB director Ian Fletcher’s appointment (week one of that saga) before he knew about it (week two).
   ‘Key cannot remember how many TranzRail shares he owned.
   ‘Key cannot remember if and when he was briefed by the GCSB over Kim Dotcom.
   ‘Key did not know about Kim Dotcom’s name before he did not know about Kim Dotcom at all.
   ‘Key cannot remember if he was for or against the 1981 Springbok tour.’
   Some folks on YouTube did a wonderful series of satirical videos lampooning the PM. Kiwi satire was back. This was the first:

   Matt Crawford recalled, ‘At this point in the last election campaign, the police were threatening to order search warrants for TV3, The Herald on Sunday, RadioNZ et al—over a complaint by the Prime Minister. Over a digital recording inadvertently made in a public space literally during a media stunt put on for the press—a figurative media circus.’
   Quoting Robert Muldoon in 1977’s Muldoon by Muldoon: ‘New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.’
   And my reaction to the Conservative Party’s latest publicity, which was recorded on this blog, and repeated for good measure on Tumblr: ‘Essentially what they are saying is: our policy is that race doesn’t matter. Except when it comes to vilifying a group, it does. Let’s ignore the real culprits, because: “The Chinese”.’

September
The passing of Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel.
   John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures sums up Nicky Hager: ‘Hager is a gadfly who often causes us to examine our society. He has attacked both the right and the left before. It’s too easy to dismiss it as a left wing loony conspiracy. We tend to shoot the messengers rather than examine the messages.’
   New Zealanders begin vilifying Kim Dotcom: I respond.
   I blog about Occupy Central in Hong Kong—which led to a television appearance on Breakfast in early October.

October
I’m not sure where this quotation comes from, but I reposted it: ‘A white man is promoted: He does good work, he deserved it.
   ‘A white woman is promoted: Whose dick did she suck?
   ‘A man of color is promoted: Oh, great, I guess we have to “fill quotas” now.
   ‘A woman of color is promoted: j/k. That never happens.’
   Facebook gets overrun by bots: I manage to encounter 277 in a single day. (I eventually reach someone at Facebook New Zealand, who is trying to solicit business for one of the fan pages we have, and point this out. I never hear back from him.) The trouble is Facebook limits you to reporting 40 a day, effectively tolerating the bots. It definitely tolerates the click farms: I know of dozens of accounts that the company has left untouched, despite reports.
   Kim Dotcom’s lawyers file a motion to dismiss in Virginia in United States v. Dotcom and others, and summarize the case so far: ‘Nearly three years ago, the United States Government effectively wiped out Megaupload Limited, a cloud storage provider, along with related businesses, based on novel theories of criminal copyright infringement that were offered by the Government ex parte and have yet to be subjected to adversarial testing. Thus, the Government has already seized the criminal defendants’ websites, destroyed their business, and frozen their assets around the world—all without benefit of an evidentiary hearing or any semblance of due process.
   ‘Without even attempting to serve the corporate defendants per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Government has exercised all its might in a concerted, calculated effort to foreclose any opportunity for the defendants to challenge the allegations against them and also to deprive them of the funds and other tools (including exculpatory evidence residing on servers, counsel of choice, and ability to appear) that would equip robust defense in the criminal proceedings.
   ‘But all that, for the Government, was not enough. Now it seeks to pile on against ostensibly defenseless targets with a parallel civil action, seeking civil forfeiture, based on the same alleged copyright crimes that, when scrutinized, turn out to be figments of the Government’s boundless imagination. In fact, the crimes for which the Government seeks to punish the Megaupload defendants (now within the civil as well as the criminal realm) do not exist. Although there is no such crime as secondary criminal copyright infringement, that is the crime on which the Government’s Superseding Indictment and instant Complaint are predicated. That is the nonexistent crime for which Megaupload was destroyed and all of its innocent users were denied their rightful property. That is the nonexistent crime for which individual defendants were arrested, in their homes and at gunpoint, back in January 2012. And that is the nonexistent crime for which the Government would now strip the criminal defendants, and their families, of all their assets.’
   Stuart Heritage thinks The Apprentice UK has run its course, and writes in The Guardian: ‘The Apprentice has had its day. It’s running on fumes. It’s time to replace it with something more exciting, such as a 40-part retrospective on the history of the milk carton, or a static shot of someone trying to dislodge some food from between their teeth with the corner of an envelope.’

November
Doctor Who takes a selfie and photobombs himself.

   Andrew Little becomes Labour leader, and is quoted in the Fairfax Press (who, according to one caption, says his mother’s name is Cecil): ‘I’m not going to resile from being passionate about working men and women being looked after, having a voice, and being able to go to work safe and earn well. That’s what I stand for.
   ‘The National party have continued to run what I think is a very 1970s prejudice about unions … We have [in New Zealand] accepted a culture that if you are big, bold and brassy you will stand up for yourself. But [this] Government is even stripping away protections [from] those who are bold enough to do so.
   ‘I think New Zealanders are ready for someone who will talk bluntly about those who are being left behind. That’s what I’ll be doing.’
   I’m not a Labour voter but I was impressed.
   I advise my friend Keith Adams in Britain, who laments the driving standards there, that in order to have the road toll we have, they’d need to kill another 2,000 per annum. ‘The British driver is a well honed, precision pilot compared to one’s Kiwi counterpart.’

December
Julian Assange on Google, and confirmation that the company has handed over personal data to the US Government. He calls Eric Schmidt ‘Google’s secretary of state, a Henry Kissinger-like figure whose job it is to go out and meet with foreign leaders and their opponents and position Google in the world.’
   The Sydney siege and the tragic deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
   The killing of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The NYPD doesn’t look very white to me, but a murderer used the death of Eric Garner as an excuse to murder a Dad and a newlywed.
   My second post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1993’s 1994 Baker Street.

   Craig Ferguson hosts his last Late Late Show. And more’s the pity: he’s one of the old school, never bitter, and never jumped on the bandwagon attacking celebrities.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, humour, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, TV, typography, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Sherlock Holmes, US-style

27.04.2014

There’s a good reason (other than time) I do not watch Elementary, though I did try about 10 minutes’ worth before giving up.
   The last time I watched the US make Sherlock Holmes, it was the above: The Return of Sherlock Holmes (though I believe it was 4:3). CBS updated Holmes to the modern day, and put in a female Watson.
   Nothing wrong with that premise. But the other one is slightly problematic: John Watson’s descendant, Jane Watson (Margaret Colin) finds a cryogenically frozen Sherlock Holmes (Australian actor Michael Pennington), defrosts him, and together they solve a series of murders.
   It was fun as a teenager in the wake of Moonlighting, Remington Steele and Back to the Future, but it doesn’t really stand up that well today.
   Interestingly, apart from one segment, it was filmed in Britain (you know this because Shane Rimmer—who is actually Canadian—and Connie Booth are in it). Britain stood in for the US.
   I wasn’t thrilled with two of the last three BBC Sherlocks—they simply weren’t as clever as the first six—but the series is still more enjoyable than most of the stuff on telly today.

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The Saint goes on

30.04.2013

I belatedly came across the YouTube preview of The Saint, a reimagining of the Leslie Charteris character, which was shopped at Cannes this month. It had been posted by Ian Dickerson, who at my last contact was the honorary secretary of the Saint Club. (A quick glance at the website reveals he still is.)
   I’m in the pro camp on this one. It’s a mistake to compare this too closely to the RKO movies with George Sanders, or the famous TV series with Roger Moore—it’s only right that the character has been reinvented for a modern audience. I’m a little less convinced by the back-story (who killed Simon Templar’s parents?), but TV networks seem to like these story arcs. I was a big fan of Return of the Saint, starring Ian Ogilvy, and saw as many Saint episodes as I could thereafter. New Zealand missed out on the Simon Dutton series of TV movies (I only ever saw one of the four on YouTube), though we did have the one-off pilot starring Australian actor Andrew Clarke airing here in 1990; and, of course, I saw the Val Kilmer big-screen adaptation as well.
   Adam Rayner almost looks the part of how Charteris described Simon Templar, and is athletic enough for the role. I hope they let his version of the Saint be a bit of tough bastard sometimes: the literary Templar wasn’t afraid of breaking a few bones when it came to unsavoury villains, even if that might upset the Moore fans. It’s great to see the return of the Patricia Holm character, whom Charteris regularly had in the books. The last time she had appeared on screen was 1943; this time, it’s Eliza Dushku playing her. It’s a good move, in my opinion, since Dushku has her fans, and they’ll probably want to see her in a new series kicking arse.
   We also see Insp John Fernack return—the last time he was on screen was in the Clarke version. They may have made him LAPD rather than NYPD, but that’s Hollywood.
   While I know Kilmer’s portrayal of Simon Templar was not well received—leading some to feel that maybe the new Saint should be closer to the way Moore played him—I didn’t really mind. Perhaps it was a tad too early for a Hollywoodized Saint, but director Phillip Noyce had the disguise aspect right. Templar delighted in them, if my memory of the books serves me correctly, but because we never saw it with Moore, and Ogilvy adopted one of the Charteris aliases only once in his 24 episodes, people tended to forget this aspect of the character. I was more let down by the sugar-sweet and badly edited ending—I understand another version was originally filmed which ended on a tragic note—but since this was pre-Batman Begins, 1990s audiences didn’t want to see that. It’s a shame, because a follow-up with Simon Templar out for revenge might have been an interesting proposition.
   However, there is an English actor playing Templar this time, which should at least silence those who felt an American should never have taken the role in the 1990s. There is a small group of us proud of our Chinese heritage and note that Leslie Charteris was born Leslie Bowyer-Yin, and that the Yin part is (Singaporean) Chinese, so surely his alter ego should reflect a bit of this heritage, too? A minor point in a globalized world.
   If there is one aspect I would like to see retained from the books, it’s the notion that one person—or in this case, two people—can go up against the establishment, and win. A lot of the Charteris villains were dishonest types who fooled the majority of society into thinking they were respectable. But sometimes when you’re right, you’re right—and it doesn’t matter which part of society you’ve come from.
   I know, I’m judging this positively before I have seen the pilot, but I reckon giving it a chance is better than rubbishing it, as a few have around the internet. Sir Roger Moore has a cameo; as does Ian Ogilvy, who seems to be playing a villain this time. As with the Kilmer outing, the trailer seems to use an updated version of the Edwin Astley theme, rather than the familiar eight notes from Charteris. Sir Roger and has son Geoffrey served as co-producers, Jesse Alexander (Lost) scripted the pilot, while James Remar, Enrique Murciano (as Insp Fernack), Thomas Kretschmann, and Greg Grunberg round off the principal cast.

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Alarm für Cobra 11: a 15th birthday celebration

12.03.2011

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, a German show I have followed for just over a half of its run.
   I’ve watched it through budget cuts and some naff storylines of late. It’s of some interest to chart the course of the show over these many years.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Above, from top: Rainer Strecker and Johannes Brandrup: Alarm für Cobra 11 is made up of a short guy and a tall guy. A stunt involving an anchor and a Ford Scorpio.

The première episode, ‘Bomben bei Kilometer 92’ (1996)
Back in the day, no one believed Germany could do an action series. It was accepted that that was the province of the Americans. An English director of photography was hired for the first Cobra 11, and Action-Concept, the company that now produces the entire show, was called in just to do the stunts. Modern fans wouldn’t recognize it: Cobra 11 was a regular German Krimi, there is one nude scene, and the two stars—Johannes Brandrup and Rainer Strecker—have an Audi 100 (C3) and a Ford Sierra, in the pre-product placement days. Slow-paced by modern standards, but then, there are fewer holes in the story. Some similarities are there: a female boss (Almut Eggert) and the pairing of a tall guy and a short guy. The theme tune, by Reinhard Scheuregger, is in place—it is this version that remained till the 159th episode with Gedeon Burkhard, many years later. There seems to be a real difference in the filming styles of the drama and the action, given that two companies (Polyphon and Action-Concept) are involved. Ten million viewers watch the première on RTL.

Alarm für Cobra 11Episode 3: ‘Der neue Partner’
Contrary to some belief, actor Erdoğan Atalay, playing Semir Gerkhan, was not there from the beginning of the series. He was hired for the third entry, after Strecker’s Ingo Fischer character was killed off. Atalay looks youthful in his first outing, playing the apprentice to Brandrup’s experienced Frank Stolte character—very different to the mature family man in current episodes. This first season netted an average of 7·7 million viewers in Germany—numbers that the more recent seasons have not achieved, largely due to increased competition.

Episode 10: ‘Shotgun’, and the formula is set
For the second season, a new lead actor is hired to replace Brandrup. Mark Keller, as André Fux, is brought in; Atalay continues playing the sidekick. Charlotte Schwab, as Anna Engelhardt, is hired to replace Eggert, as the squad’s new boss. She has a secretary, Andrea Schäfer, played by Carina Wiese. Two supporting regulars are added: uniformed policemen called Horst Herzberger (Dietmar Huhn) and Dieter Bonrath (Gottfried Vollmer). Apart from actor changes, these six roles remain constant throughout the series, with a science lab geek (Hartmut, played by Niels Kurvin) added as a regular in 2004, probably with the success of American shows such as CSI.

Episode 32: ‘Die letzte Chance’, and the stuntmen take over
Action-Concept takes over all duties at the start the third season and cranks up the stunts. No longer filmed in Berlin, the show is moved to its new home base, nearer to Action-Concept HQ in Nordrhein-Westfalen. The stories are still plausible, but you can trace the stunts getting bigger from this point. Keller would see out the third season, with the last episode filmed in Majorca, to escape the German winter. Unlike Brandrup, Keller’s character is killed off in front of his partner Semir—a trend, sadly, whenever a lead actor exits the show.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: René Steinke, as Tom Kranich, in his final episode (for now).

Episode 48: ‘Höllenfahrt auf der A4’, and the début of Tom Kranich
Long-time fans speak admirably of the pairing of actor René Steinke (as Tom Kranich) with Atalay, and to many, this is the definitive team, commencing 1999. The stories, at this point, still have some semblance of reality, and it could be argued that the Cobra 11 franchise reached its peak during this era. While the Semir Gerkhan role remains the sidekick, it is maturing, especially with the on–off relationship he has with the secretary, Andrea. The stunts continue to become more impressive, easily beating out anything emerging from weekly American television.
   In 2001, requiring more episodes, a spin-off was created, Alarm für Cobra 11: Einsatz für Team 2. Since Steinke and Atalay had reached the maximum working hours under German employment law, two other actors were hired. The supporting cast remained the same, but the spin-off essentially dealt with two other cops—a male and an aristocratic female this time—who worked when the regulars didn’t. The series was successful—5·5 million viewers per episode—but sank without trace.
   Steinke, arguably, helped draw a big audience. My female friends all seem to agree that the actor is ‘hot’, rating him more highly versus his predecessors and successors.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: Christian Oliver and Erdoğan Atalay.

Episode 98: ‘Feuertaufe’, and Erdoğan Atalay is promoted to lead
With Tom’s fiancée, Elena, blown up in her Range Rover at the close of the sixth season, he leaves the force. The producers were, with hindsight, fortunate to keep the character alive, rather than kill him off in the same way as Fux. Christian Oliver, as Jan Richter, is the first new actor to be junior to Erdoğan Atalay’s Semir Gerkhan, finally promoted to lead. The dynamic changes slightly as a result.
Alarm für Cobra 11   At the beginning of the eighth season, Semir and Andrea are married, in a two-hour pilot film, ‘Fur immer und ewig’. The scripts are beginning to show some implausibility, and the villains begin to be more cartoonish.

Episode 126: ‘Comeback’, and Tom Kranich comes back
Richter disappears without trace, leading to the rehiring of actor René Steinke, who has to rejoin the force to help solve the opening crime. It’s not a two-hour pilot this time, but a fairly routine episode about a terrorist bomber. The scripts continue to have a mixture between a traditional crime show and ever-extreme stunts. Eagle-eyed viewers will see an Opel Calibra dressed up with a Mercedes CLK front and rear for storylines that require the car to be destroyed, and Toyota provides extra product placement.
   Atalay continues to have his name first, and the two characters are now equal partners.
   Wiese, leaving the show as a regular, has her Andrea Gerkhan character become a full-time mother. Martina Hill is brought in, after guesting at the start of the 10th season.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: Gedeon Burkhard and Erdoğan Atalay share top billing—the order changes depending on episode.

Episode 158: ‘Auf Leben und Tod’, and the guy from Kommissar Rex
When Steinke wishes to leave the show a second time, the producers decide to kill him off—so a second comeback is now out of the question. He comes back for the start of the 11th season to film his death scene, and Gedeon Burkhard, from Kommissar Rex, becomes Semir’s new partner. The on-screen relationship is more strained initially, and Burkhard’s Chris Ritter character is the first chain-smoking lead in the series. Ritter is used to undercover work, so the stories become grittier and darker, with the emphasis on characterization. A new introduction and rearranged theme song are introduced, and depending on episode, either Burkhard or Atalay gets top billing.
   Hill also leaves, replaced by Daniela Wutte as Susanna König.
   A disturbing development begins in production. While BMW and Mercedes-Benz now supply new cars to be written off, it’s during the Burkhard era that crashes from earlier episodes are inserted into the action.
   And Burkhard’s presence is limited. Claiming that he wanted to be closer to his daughter, the actor quits. Chris Ritter is also killed off at the end of the 12th season, this time by a Dutch criminal, and, like Kranich, dies in the presence of Semir Gerkhan.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Above, from top: Ben Jäger (Tom Beck) and Semir Gerkhan (Erdoğan Atalay) can see the sky out of Semir’s BMW 3er-Reihe. In ‘Die Braut’, aired March 12, 2009. A new Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse police car rolls in the opening chase in ‘Der Anschlag’, the season première aired September 2, 2010. And just to show how outrageous the stories have become, that is a nuclear warhead Semir has disarmed, in ‘Codename Tiger’, aired April 22, 2010.

Episode 180: ‘Auf eigene Faust’, and the Tom Beck era
With the introduction of new co-star Tom Beck, as Ben Jäger, the series takes on more fantastic elements. The action sequences pay tribute to the likes of Michael Bay—not exactly the best role model—and some very obvious inspirations from American films begin appearing. Lethal Weapon 4, Live Free or Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, and Bay himself (a US air base is named after him in one episode) are referenced, and the villains become even more cartoonish. The early episodes are transitional, but it’s discovered that Beck has good comedic timing, so a few more scenes are played for laughs.
   The show has become more of a caricature, though the occasional good story still surfaces.
   Schwab leaves the show, replaced yet again by a female boss, played by Katja Woywood (who, in fact, guested on Team 2, but played another character).

Episode 219: ‘Bad Bank’, the 15th anniversary episode
Which brings us to 2011 and the 219th story (I’ve used the production order, not the broadcast order). It’s supposedly the 15th anniversary episode. ‘Bad Bank’ sees Ben blinded in the opening chase, though his blindness heals very rapidly. A villain has such bad aim that he fails to shoot Semir despite the use of an automatic weapon, while Semir’s handgun blows up a helicopter. People move in slow motion to be cool. The action is passable though, in a recession, it’s not as extreme as it once was. There’s a rumour that Dietmar Huhn’s character—the second-longest-running in the show, after Atalay’s—will be killed off.
   Atalay believes the show will go on, although he has a film to shoot as well as his Cobra 11 episodes this year. The viewers seem to like Beck, and 5·5 million are still drawn to the show each week in Germany. It remains the top-rated show in its timeslot, beating off reality TV programmes. However, as a long-time fan, I’m hoping for some better stories or stunts—as there’s a feeling that Alarm für Cobra 11 peaked a while back. The numbers certainly did: ‘Bad Bank’, an exercise in style over substance, netted only 5·07 million against strong competition—though that’s up considerably from figures a few years ago that had Cobra 11 stuck between 3 million and 4 million. It does seem to be recovering its market share.
   On that note, I wish the show a happy birthday—15 years and 222 finished episodes are nothing to be sneezed at. It’s been renewed for autumn 2011, which is no surprise, given it continues to bring in the numbers, especially the crucial 14–49 age group. It’s brought us many good memories and continues to be fun, escapist viewing on RTL and, more recently, RTL Now.

Some links
Alarm für Cobra 11 international Facebook group
Cobra 11 Fanabteilung
Hank-Gert’s Alarm für Cobra 11 Homepage
Official site

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Hannah Gordon and Robert Vaughn, four decades on in Hustle

19.02.2011

This is the sort of thing that would normally wind up on my Tumblr, but it’s a tad hard to do two images without a bit of clever HTML programming.
   Whomever did the casting for Hustle was very clever with the final episode of the season. To play Robert Vaughn’s old flame, actress Hannah Gordon was cast as Susan. The idea: Susan had left Vaughn’s Albert Stroller character 30 years ago, tired of his grifting, and later found out she was pregnant to him. Their daughter wanted to meet her biological father, and eventually, mother and daughter depart the UK to head back to the US. Stroller misses them both.
   There was a very familiar feel to this and it didn’t take me long to work it out. Gordon has played opposite Vaughn before, as his ex-wife, in Gerry Anderson’s The Protectors. In ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, she and their son depart the UK for the US, and Harry Rule—Vaughn’s character in that series—does not see them off properly.
   It’s us oldies—or at least those of us in middle age who saw the earlier show (on a re-run, I might quickly add)—who might make the connection. Here are the shots, nearly 40 years apart, of Gordon and Vaughn playing couples:
Hannah Gordon and Robert Vaughn in The Protectors
Hannah Gordon and Robert Vaughn in Hustle
   I realize this isn’t the first time we have seen two actors playing opposite each other romantically—Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles come to mind—but this might be one of the longer gaps. I couldn’t find any news on this from the BBC, so I imagine the casting choice was one for the anoraks.

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A new Eric and Ernie clip

22.12.2010

I wonder if I should get part of the Broadcasting Fee, the way I promote the BBC.
   I like real-life dramas, particularly about recent history. BBC2’s Eric and Ernie, to be shown on January 1 at 9 p.m., looks very good.
   A new clip came out on YouTube 12 hours ago. The earlier one is immediately below, with Victoria Wood and Jim Moir (a.k.a. Vic Reeves—I suspect he is shifting to his real name now and doing a “Dwayne Johnson” on us) as John Eric Bartholomew’s, a.k.a. Eric Morecambe’s, parents. The second shows Morecambe and Wise in action and getting heckled on stage in Glasgow—Bryan Dick, the actor portraying Wise, looks and sounds like the man he is playing. It’s a very good portrayal.

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BBC drama, this autumn and winter

15.12.2010

Don’t know how I could have missed this. Oh, yes I do: I was running for office.
   Now that I’m not, I want to give the BBC a bit of a push, because these dramas look awesome. Aurelio Zen, with Rufus Sewell, looks like my sort of drama, and begins the first week of January. Caterina Murino plays his girlfriend and was that John Shrapnel I saw as a villain? Ashes to Ashes fans: our Luigi, Joseph Long, is in this series, so it’s not just Keeley Hawes (Upstairs, Downstairs) you’ll see this season.
   Doctor Who fans will note that Eccleston, Tennant and Smith appear, though only Smith is the Doctor in these clips.
   No Hustle promoed here, but that will also start in early January.
   And the calibre of the actors here is amazing. See how many big names you can spot.

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Is your favourite 1980s’ celeb here?

07.12.2010

From the ‘Whatever happened to …’ and the ‘My God, is (s)he still alive?’ files comes this promotional video for the (Norwegian) TV2 show Gylne Tider, with a bunch of celebrities lip-synching ‘Let It Be’ (including, appropriately, Fab Morvan of Milli Vanilli).
   Sir Roger Moore kicks it off, but right after, you’ll catch (inter alia) Huey Lewis, Jason Alexander (not the one Britney Spears married—or was it?), Josie Bissett, Philip Michael Thomas, John Nettles (subtitled Bergerac—one presumes Midsomer Murders never made it to Norway), Corbin Bernsen, Ricki Lake, Glenn Close, George Wendt (is Norm from Cheers wearing a toupée?), Steve Guttenberg, Katarina Witt, Tonya Harding, Alfonso Ribeiro, Dolph Lundgren, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Ana Alicia, Kelly McGillis, Rick Schroder, Robert Englund, Lou Ferrigno, Boyzone, Kathleen Turner, Daryl Hannah, and even Columbo himself, Peter Falk. There is a glimpse of the late Leslie Nielsen, in a “photo album” scene (the video was made before his passing).

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