July 1st, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
I can honestly say until very recently I’d never watched a show that originated from Germany. Sure, I’d viewed loads of series from other countries but I don’t think that I’d ever watched one that was in another language with subtitles before.
That was until I checked out the show Deutschland 83 on Sundance.
My understanding up to now was that German TV wasn’t up to snuff. That whereas English speaking countries like the US, UK and Australia were producing more nuanced and thoughtful TV series, the Germans were stuck on big bombastic shows. But after watching Deutschland 83 I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.
Like The Goldbergs and Halt and Catch Fire that takes place in the 1980s, and another that focuses on spies and the Cold War in that decade with The Americans and The Assets, Deutschland 83 is set in a very different Germany than is there today. Now Germany is an economic powerhouse that is a core member of the European Union. But back then it was a divided nation between east and west with the Berlin Wall still six years away from falling. Halved after WW2, West Germany was aligned with the US and NATO while East Germany was with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Which meant that a divided Germany was ground-zero for the Cold War and would also literally be ground-zero if a real war ever broke out between the superpowers.
Enter Moritz Stamm (Jonas Nay), a 20-something East German soldier who just so happens to look like a West German aide to an important officer in the planning of any conflict with the east. So Moritz becomes Martin and enters into the spy-game expected to steal secrets and stay one step ahead of the people hunting him in order that his mother stay on a kidney transplant list back home.
Jonas Nay and Sonja Gerhardt
To say that Moritz is unequipped for the job would’t be an understatement. He’s literally kidnapped in the first episode and transported to the west in order to train to become an agent. But he does what must be done and puts his life on the line for his side which, even after having spent time in the west, he still believes in.
As Moritz spends more time undercover his position becomes more and more exposed. Will Martin’s friends from the past show up and find Moritz out? Will Moritz slip up and be caught copying documents? Will a spy from another country eliminate him to steal his secrets?
With the hindsight of history it’s interesting to see how the creators of Deutschland 83 (American Anna Winger and her German husband Jörg) are setting their fictional story with real-life events. In the second episode there’s mention of the “Able Archer” military exercises that really took place in ’83. While these were held for NATO prepare for the possibility of war, the Soviets thought they might instead be a secret lead-up to a real war and started planning for conflict.
In fact the US and the USSR were so close to war during the exercises that the USSR was ready at a moment’s notice to attack west. And it was only because of the realization of this from the US and the pullback of some of the exercises and the fact that there were no false alarms on the USSR side, which seemed to happen quite frequently during the 1980s, that the world wasn’t incinerated to a nuclear ash because of Able Archer.
Every fictional modern take on the Cold War gives the perspective from the west — even with The Americans that has Soviet agents operating in the US still takes place in the US with US sensibilities. But Deutschland 83 comes from a totally different perspective. Here in the US we were at least somewhat removed from the realities of the east/west conflict back then. Sure, if a war ever happened New York would be just as devastated as Berlin but enemy tanks weren’t literally on our border ready to cross at a moments notice.
Germany in 1983 didn’t have the luxury of distance that we had. If a war ever did happen, even a “limited” one, it would mean a devastated and probably radioactive Germany for years to come. That’s why the events of Deutschland 83 are so interesting. Not only are spies like Moritz trying to find out the secrets of the other side; they’re doing this agains their own countrymen. People that had fought alongside each other just a few decades prior in WW2 were now sworn enemies in the Cold War.
It was a weird time in Germany’s history which I think is why Deutschland 83 is one of the most interesting series on TV.
Deutschland 83 is an eight episode series that airs Wednesday nights at 11 (EST) on Sundance. If it continues on its current schedule the series should wrap up sometime in early August.
The Astronaut Wives Club
June 25th, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
I watched the ABC series The Astronaut Wives Club last weekend. It’s interesting because the series trying to be a bit like Mad Men but showing things from the women’s POV. But it’s weird because without the men’s POV it just makes the men look bad, like they have no dimension other than chasing girls and partying.
What’s interesting with The Astronaut Wives Club is that it appears as if each episode takes place what looks like several months to a year after the previous one as the space race evolves from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. So we start in 1960 and go to 1970 something, or more likely Apollo 11 in ’69, in 10 episodes. Which could be really interesting since characters could totally change over the course of a few weeks, let alone a few seasons. And with each episode each of the wives could take center stage as it’s HER husband to go into space this time.
I’m interested in how they tell the story of the astronauts wives in this manner, but I’m not totally sold on the overall story yet.
Okay… what in the hell just happened here…
June 19th, 2015 | By: Mo Alexander
Sony recently released “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeros” prequel to the up and coming “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” full game released this September. (Think of it as a teaser for the up and coming game..)
At any rate, after playing through the “mission” that was involved, I am totally confused.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!!
So apparently Snake (the main character of the Metal Gear series), used to work for the US Government, only to decide to venture out on his own and create his own espionage organization. In this particular prequel, Snake is tasked with raiding a US Military prison / base to rescue two of his comrades; One being a kid with a head phone jack in his chest (I sh!t you not..), and one being a young lady with a bomb in her guts (yeah it gets better…).
At any rate, Snake starts out on the outskirts of the prison, and works to infiltrate the fence-line, using new technology and weapons. Sniper Rifles, Suppressed Automatic Rifles, and even a sleep dart gun; Snake can use them all. Somewhat of the goal for this particular objective is perform the rescue with a bit of “silence” and stealth. Fortunately for me, those two words don’t really exist in my gaming vocabulary, so of course, my first go at this prequel mission was to go in, guns blazing.
To an extent my methodology worked, however, at the end of the mission, you are graded on your performance. And of course, mine sucked (got a C). I of course gave the demo a few more shots. I guess next up will be the full game coming out in November.
Graphically, the game is awesome. Rainfall actually gives the impression that this is truly a dark and stormy night that this mission is taking place. Gameplay and control of Snake and his weapons are spot on, unlike previous versions of Metal Gear. This iteration also threw in additional mechanics (such as firing an AA gun at some of the guards, piloting and shooting a tank with another tank), which gave the feel as a “tactical / military” shooter a bit more flare.
Acting / Story line / Plot have a bit more work to do. Sometimes this is due to the game’s story line being “lost in translation” from a Japanese translation to English translation. Not that its a bad thing, but sometimes you just get a chuckle out of how some of the guards talking to one another. I don’t want to spoil the small ending here, but you really do stop and have to scratch your head and ask “OK, what the hell just happened here…”
All in all, for a free title via the PSN Plus network, its worth a view. Give it a go, if you got a PS4.
And be sure to keep an eye out for the full game from Konami “The Phantom Pain“, coming this November.
Star Trek: The Force Awakens
June 19th, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
A few months back the second trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens movie was released and, like most of my fellow geeks of the world, I was immediately enthralled by what I saw on the screen. From the downed Star Destroyer to new characters on exciting adventures and even familiar faces making a new appearance on a stage they left more than 30 years ago… all those old feelings I had as a kid when I saw the original Star Wars came flooding back.
John Boyega from Star Wars: Episode VII
Then I thought for a moment about how I’d felt the same way about another beloved sci-fi franchise rebooted for modern audiences that I couldn’t wait to watch after seeing its trailer; Star Trek (2009).
That movie took the characters from the original 1960s TV series, recast them with fresh faces and set the story in an alternate universe so this new Star Trek could have some unexpected twists all its own. Unfortunately, the story the creators of that film decided to tell was cliched and certain elements of seemed to exist only to get the characters from point “a” to point “b” and didn’t seem to flow in any logical manner.
I disliked the first Star Trek so much that I have yet to see the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) even though I’ve had many chances to do so. After the first movie watching the second seemed like a waste of time.
The cast of Star Trek
In fact I’d all but written off covering anything Star Trek movie related until I saw the trailer for The Force Awakens and started feeling all those feelings for the new Star Wars I’d felt for the Star Trek remake again. And the fact that both movies were/are directed by J.J. Abrams made me take pause for a moment.
Will The Force Awakens be yet another disappointment like Star Trek was? For the most part I think not, that the situations those movies were created under are so different that the two films really can’t be compared. Abrams didn’t write Star Trek but he is writing The Force Awakens, some of the people involved in the original Star Wars films are involved with this new one but weren’t with Star Trek…
But a small part of me is worried that The Force Awakens just might be another disappointment like Star Trek was.
Daisy Ridley from Star Wars: Episode VII
With Star Trek it seemed like Abrams and company were more interested in mining the “greatest hits” of the original Star Trek series as it were, remixing elements and telling a slightly different abet updated versions of them. Which they did. But instead of their creation turning out to be something new and interesting it was a bloated, confusing mess.
And though I’ve only seen the two trailers for the upcoming The Force Awakens adding up to just a few minutes of screen-time in total, I’m just the slightest but worried Abrams is making all the mistakes he made with Star Trek again with his new Star Wars movie.
Like with Star Trek, it looks like the story of The Force Awakens isn’t telling a completely new story and Abrams has again brought back most of the characters from the original set of movies and has remixed things a bit to tell a new, modern story.
Adam Driver from Star Wars: Episode VII
Still, it’s probably too early to start worrying about the quality of the finished The Force Awakens movie since we’re still months from its release. In this new movie the characters ARE back but they’re being played by the same actors from the original. And while the story might not be completely original it is telling a continuation of the story from the previous six films.
Right now I’m nothing but excited about the new Star Wars movie. However, I’ve wanted to be a fan of Abrams for a while now but it seems like everything he’s created from Lost to Alias to Mission Impossible 3 to Super 8 have been in one way or another ultimately disappointing to me. I’m just hoping that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be the first Abrams project in a while to attain some sort of lasting greatness.
Jon Bernthal as The Punisher photo
June 9th, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
At least my interpretation of Bernthal as Frank Castle in the upcoming second season of Daredevil. Underlying illustration by Mike Zeck.
And Joe MacMillion said, ‘Let there Be Light:’ Halt and Catch Fire
June 5th, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
All too often series that deal with the creation of something focus on the creation of the BEST something. Like with the series Mad Men where character Don Draper creates the BEST advertisements out there that make clients weep with joy or Breaking Bad where Walter White creates the BEST meth that keeps bringing the addicts back for more and more.
Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis
It makes sense for a series to focus on the best of something. It’s easier to create a show around a character like Olivia Pope in Scandal who runs the BEST crisis-management firm in DC rather than to run an okay firm who gets the job done but is a lot like many other companies out there.
It’s very rare — so rare that I can’t think of another show to do this — for a series to focus on the creation of something that turns out to be average, or mediocre, but that’s exactly what the creators of the excellent AMC series Halt and Catch Fire decided to to in their first season.
Halt and Catch Fire takes place in the early 1980s during the personal computer revolution set in “Silicon Prairie” Texas. Before everyone had a Mac or PC, or these days really more Android and iPhone, and no one knew what the standard personal computer would be there were many different companies all with different computers and operating systems that all entered the fray looking to define their standards as THE standard.
In Halt and Catch Fire former IBM executive Joe MacMillion (Lee Pace) is hired by Cardiff Electric as a salesman. But Joe’s a visionary with a hidden plan to use company resources to try and make one of the first post-IBM PCs, to capture the computer market and be a hero.
In his quest for greatness he finds underused and brilliant Carfiff hardware engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) a gifted software engineer and college dropout to make his dream happen.
Along the way the group works almost constantly, burns bridges, destroys lives and eventually creates an innovative computer called the “Giant.”
But what anyone who works in the computer/software industry is well aware of is that what’s fresh and new today can be smelly and outdated tomorrow. Which is what the Cardiff team finds when they go to sell their creation to big businesses but learn that what they thought was an innovative computer where a user can type questions and receive answers via a text interface looks positively amateurish compared to machines like the Macintosh with a graphical user interface that’s about to be launched alongside their Giant.
And that’s where Halt and Catch Fire veers from other similar shows. There’s a clear and distinct moment in the series where the characters who’ve spent the last year of their lives toiling over the creation of the Giant, have seen friends and family turn their backs when the creators didn’t have time for them, had created what they thought was truly great find out that they’ve really created something quite ordinary. Their computer isn’t innovative, it’s not even all that useful.
Instead what they’ve created is a historical footnote. They find that pushing limits often means splatting on the walls of innovation.
Unfortunately while I found the series to be spectacular not many shared this opinion and the ratings for the first season of Halt and Catch Fire were pretty dismal. The first season finale of the sereis did so poorly that I was convinced that it would also serve as the SERIES finale. Yet AMC in its ultimate wisdom decided to bring Halt and Catch Fire back for a second season which made me a very happy geek.
Which begs the question; how will Joe, Gordon and Cameron bounce back from spending a year of their lives creating something that at best is seen as being cheaper than the competition and at worst useless?
Is there life after the Giant?
The second season of Halt and Catch Fire is currently airing Sundays at 10(9c) on AMC.