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Matt Haig: How to Stop Time

Time travelling isn’t a new topic neither in films nor in literature. It seems that people have always been fascinated by stories about travelling back into history to meet people from the past and forward in time to get a glimpse of a possible future. BBC’s  „Doctor Who“ has everything people expect from a telly series covering that topic: an age old time traveller who knows not only how to handle humans but also past, present and the future – not to mention all sorts of aliens.

„My mother died a very long time ago. I, on the other hand, did not.“

Matt Haig’s new book „How to Stop Time“ comes without aliens, or strange tech gadgets but with a man who ages in slow motion. Tom Hazard may look like a 40 year old guy. But he has outlived centuries before he hits modern day London – and he hasn’t lost his memory. That’s why he not only remembers ancient times and places like Shakespeare’s London (and the great playwright himself). He also has to cope with serious headaches indicating that his brain, like a hard drive, is about to reach its maximum capacity. Teaching history at a school in London, Tom uses his first-hand-knowledge to bring history to life for his pupils without revealing his true identity. But the past is always with him.

„How to Stop Time“ is an intense story that hooks the reader from the very beginning not because it is breathtakingly fast and action packed but because it is calm and lacks all sorts of excitement in a very fascinating way.  Matt Haig’s newest novel is one to loose yourself in  – which is the best you can say of any book.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

 

Matt Haig: How to Stop Time, Canongate, 15 €/13 £.

The book will be adapted for film by Sunny March with Benedict Cumberbatch taking the lead role.

Die deutsche Ausgabe wird 2018 im dtv erscheinen.

Benedict Cumberbatch: I am a very lucky man

Over the last couple of years Benedict Cumberbatch gained lots of fans, especially women. Whether or not his wife is jealous of them,  the British actor, who in the last two years alone appeared in five films, reveals in this interview.  Additionally he  takes over the role as Sherlock Holmes on telly on a regular basis. The last episode of the fourth series aired on Sunday, 11th June on German broadcaster ARD.

Question: Besides your job you and your wife Sophie have to care for your two year old son Christopher and your new born son Hal. Isn’t this situation a bit too stressful?
Benedict Cumberbatch: It’s not stressful, it’s a blessing. It’s unbelievable that I’m offered roles at all. And that I am able to choose which one I want to take, that they are so different from one another and that people seem to like those films – this is something you simply can’t expect at all.

Have you ever imagined that the series would be such a huge success? What makes your version of Sherlock Holmes so popular?
I had not the faintest idea. Maybe it’s good we don’t do more episodes. Fans are more keen on what will happen and we do always look fresh and relaxed (laughs). Seriously, I do think that all figures in the series have their very special weaknesses or failures. The audience can accept them more easily.

The finale of series four is about to air (in Germany when this interview was first published). What was the best thing that happend on set?
Definitely Toby, the bloodhound of the first (it says „last“ in the German version) episode. That damn dog wouldn’t move while filming because it turned out he hates asphalt and humans. He was trained in the countryside. It was a real comedy getting him to move.

As Holmes you almost have a romantic relationship with your coat (it says ‚cloak‘ in the German version but you know about cloaks). Is there any private …?
… clothing I have an romantic  relationship? (laughs) Would be cool if I said I have a favourite blanket I’m carrying around since childhood, wouldn’t it? But there is nothing at all. My clothes are very boring, mostly one colour and I prefer silver, grey and blue.

Fans don’t think you are boring. You achieved cult status.
It’s something I never longed for. But it’s part of the job of being an actor.  Biggest problems I have with the pun some of my very intelligent, witty and creative female fans are playing with my name.

You’re hinting at the name „Cumberbitches“ they gave themselves?
Yes, it’s a bit of self humiliating. I have made it quite clear that I would be more happy with a slightly different version of that name. But in the end everyone is free to decide which name to choose for oneself.

What about your wife? Isn’t she jealous of all the female fans?
Sophie loves me and is proud of my work. That’s all that matters. We are made for each other and fit together perfectly. That’s why she has no problems with all the stuff that’s going on. She’s a very strong and confident woman. I am a very lucky man.

How are you dealing with all the fame?
I ignore it and am trying to enjoy all the wonderful moments I can live through as an actor. It’s very easy to be dragged away by all the fuzz that’s made up around your person. That’s why it’s so important for me to have family and friends I know for a very long time. They keep me grounded.

You seem to be very self-confident.
Problem is self-confidence often is taken for arrogance. I’m a man with some short-comings.

That is?
Well, I do like tech gadgets but I’m not really good with them. I’m just an ordinary user who gets screwed up if something doesn’t work.

Do you always have your phone at hand?
Only for my job. Because I would loose out on all my appointments. When I’m at home, I don’t want to know anything of this.

What are you up to when you are at home?
First I’m changing into something very comfy. There’s nothing more wonderful than watching a great film crawled up on the sofa in front of your fireplace. But more often I’m reading a book. That calms me down.

Are you into sports?
Not in any studio. I like hiking in nature or walking through a park to clear my brain. Music helps me.

What is your favourite music?
Everything. Most of all I like songs getting me to think because they cover everything that goes wrong in this world. Just like Radiohead’s „Burn the Witch“. That songs touches my soul.

What should we do to make the world a better place?
It’s up to everyone to decide if or if not to make a difference. I’m working with an organisation called „Liberty“ backing human rights in the UK. We’re trying to support people who are discriminated because of their origin, colour or religion.

You’re 40 now. Do you look back to your 20s nostalgically?
Not at all. The older I get, the happier I get with my life. I love my wonderful life, now more than ever, together with my family and the fantastic people surrounding me. I’m very much looking forward forward to what may lie ahead.

 

The German version of this interview was originally published online here.  My translation is published with the friendly permission of the author.

This is to you, Twitter

Dear Twitter,

I have to say that it wasn’t love at first sight. Not at all.

When I decided I needed an account, I was bored and frustrated. Because I didn’t understand you. Not at all.

But then BBC’s „Sherlock“ came my way and I fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch and the series as a whole (or at least the episodes I managed to watch).  And I wanted more. More information about every tiny detail I could get my hands on it. There wasn’t much out there. But you, Twitter, had some lovely accounts that offered all I needed.

You made me tweet  in English (and the English version of this blog wouldn’t exist without you) which has been quite a challenge. You will never imagine how difficult it was to get the very first tweet out there. And how thrilling it was to learn that you, Twitter, wasn’t a mere stream of information. People actually reacted, responded to my tweets, connected my to their conversations. People I wouldn’t have met without Sherlock and Twitter.  Some of them I managed to meet in RL, some of them I only know because of their Twitter but I miss them when they don’t update their status and am worried when I don’t see them online for a few days without warning.

Critics might say that this is how internet addicts behave and I should get myself some help to get rid of my addiction. But if it is an addiction – chatting with people from all over the world, learning new things from a variety of topics, getting news updates almost the minute stories are happening – then I am an addict. But as Sherlock would say: I’m just a user.

And I like it that way

Petra

xx

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

The new year brought new Sherlock. And as always  the fans gathered round telly or any internet device to watch the first episode of series 4, „The Six Thatchers“. Written by Mark Gatiss this episode started where we left the beloved figures at the end of „His Last Vow“ (or is it „The Abominable Bride“?):  Sherlock, trying to fight his addiction, John and Mary, the soon-to-be parents, and Mycroft as dapper and clever as ever.  But of course there is the Christmas special „The Abominable Bride“ that first aired last year, and despite the fact that the creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wanted us fans to believe it is a stand alone film, it isn’t. So aren’t the previous series.

That’s why „The Six Thatchers“ is a totally new twist for the series as a whole and for Sherlock in particular. You see the only consulting detective in familiar scenes in flashbacks (confusing for newbies, a feast for fans) and you see him coping with new situations  and new figures – a baby only being one of them. Of course this changes him, it has to, just because Sherlock is human, no matter what he made anyone believe so far and  a very caring one as this episode unfolds. This doesn’t mean he stops being that high functioning sociopath (with your number). He is as rude and clever as ever. And he is more active in a James Bond-like way.

John Watson has changed, too, as Mrs Hudson predicted on the wedding day: „Marriage changes you“, she told Sherlock, and of course she is right. The couple has to care for their baby daughter while solving crimes together with Sherlock – the two of them against the rest of the world now are  three. And Mary? Well, she is smart and fits perfectly into Sherlock’s world. But you know what’s in the canon.

All in all this episode has anything you could wish for: humour, drama and settings with lots of details that clearly need lots of re watches to deduce all the hidden clues. Benedict Cumberbatch simply is Sherlock, he fits into the belstaff as perfectly as he fits into that iconic role, delivering a brilliant performance in every single second. Martin Freeman’s John Watson as well as Amanda Abbington’s Mary are more than just sidekicks. They are adding new lines to the story that set the path for the still unknown episodes to come. The week till episode 2 feels as long as the hiatus as a whole.

 

 

James Rhodes: „Life’s too short to pretend“

Ahead of his upcoming tour in  Germany, Austria and Switzerland, James Rhodes kindly answered a few questions. No idea how he does it, but the answers hit my inbox in no time 😉

You have been on tour recently and will have a couple of concerts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Do you have time to stroll a bit through every town you are in? And if so are you looking for something typical in the town you are in?
I really hope so. Some days I’ll have more time than others but ideally I’ll always be able to stroll around and explore new places – most of these cities are new to me and I can’t wait.

How are you preparing for the concert in the evening? Is it important for you to relax, sleep in or are you too excited to be calm?
It’s a real mixture – on a perfect day I’ll be well rested and excited (in a call way!). But of course lots of the time I’ll be stressed and anxious and grumpy. But then I’m that way with everything not just concerts.

Is it difficult to concentrate when playing in a new hall?
Not usually. Sitting at the piano is the best place for me, whatever the hall is like.

You are quite active on Twitter where you are not only funny or chat about ordinary things. You are very open when it comes to topics such as depression or the abuse you suffered as a boy. Is it some kind of therapy for you? And are the internet/ social media stressful sometimes?
I love Twitter. I’ve met some wonderful people on there and been very lucky in that I haven’t come across much nastiness. I think loneliness can be really debilitating for people especially if they’re a bit wobbly emotionally (like me), so social media can be a really positive thing. I think it’s important to just be myself whether it’s with a friend in a cafe or online, it’s always the same me. Life’s too short to pretend.

When meeting fans it seems you are really enjoying it. Is there anything you want to tell them?
Thank you! That’s the main thing. It’s appreciated more than they know and it makes me feel all warm inside. Don’t ever feel shy about coming to say hello 🙂

I met James Rhodes in September 2015 after a talk at The Guardians' and asked for a selfie. Photo: Petra Breunig

I met James Rhodes in September 2015 after a talk at The Guardians‘ and asked for a selfie. Photo: Petra Breunig

——

You can find more about James Rhodes on his side where there are also links to tour dates, his Sound Cloud and his Twitter – and on this blog

All dates for his upcoming tour are in this poster: jamesrhodestourposter2016

David Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow 

It is a novel. A fiction, not a documentary about the life of Alan Turing. This is important because people tend to take every word for granted, weighing it carefully, comparing it to proved facts about the man who helped to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code.

David Lagercrantz takes those facts and some more (Alan’s homosexuality, his somehow awkward behaviour, his genius) and unfolds his story from the very last day of Alan’s life and the moment his corpse is discovered by a local policeman. This man, Detective Constable Leonard Corell, takes a very special interest in this case that seems to be nothing more than suicide. Step by step he dives deeper into the life and thinking of Alan Turing – a journey which doesn’t leave his own life untouched.

„(I)f indeed anyone was an unbreakable code then it was Alan himself.“

„The Fall of the Man in Wilmslow“ is a thrilling story that hooks you from the very first page. If (and this is an if I only can claim for myself) you already know something about Alan Turing’s life and impact. Then you find hints you have read elsewhere, imagine pictures, films or documentaries you have seen or listen to and you will be able to find your pace between fact and fiction this novel is constantly mixing up. If you haven’t stumbled upon Alan Turing at all, you probably will be lost in between the complexity of the story that hops from the past to the present and back again, changes perspectives and comes  up with names and places you might find confusing because you have never heard of them. If you still want to find out more about Alan Turing, start with a biography (or click on the link given below).

FallOfMan

David Lagercrantz: Fall of the Man in Wilmslow. The death and life of Alan Turing. A Novel, MacLehose Press, about 9£.

You find more about Alan Turing here on my blog.

JG Ballard: High-Rise

It took me a while to figure out what other book JG Ballard’s „High-Rise“ reminds me of. In my defence I have to write that it has been ages since I’ve read „Lord of the Flies“ by  William Golding, another novel about how people react under special circumstances. Whereas Golding sets his figures on an uninhabited island, Ballard unfolds his story in a huge skyscraper, the High-Rise, a building that offers literally everything the inhabitants need from a supermarket and a school to restaurant and swimming-pools. No wonder the flat owners – as the story unfolds – are gradually losing interest in the surrounding world and stick inside the building.

„With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school (…) the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.“

All the way back to the primitive ways of existence

Robert Laing, a doctor and medical school teacher who moved into his flat on the 25th floor after his divorce, soon finds himself too lazy to go to work and spends his nights protecting himself and some neighbours from other inhabitants. Gradually living in an exclusive flat means getting back to the most primitive ways of existence: staying alive, getting something to eat, having a safe place to sleep.

„The building was a monument to good taste.“

The intensity in JG Ballard’s „High-Rise“ comes from a language that is almost neutral and a complete contrast to the story itself, that is told like a non-fictional topic with a storyteller who seems only to describe what he sees or what he has been told. That’s why this novel is so brilliant and thrilling at the same time.

 

JG Ballard: High-Rise, Fourth Estate, about 7 £

In the movie adaption of  „High-Rise“ Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Robert Laing.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Benedict Cumberbatch’s outstanding Richard III

Yes, I can hear them. Those critics, those self declared grail holders of every single tradition you can think of in cultural topics. They are about to start their writing software after they had difficulties to survive  „Richard III“, the third part of the second series of „The Hollow Crown“, screened over the last three weekends on BBC Two. After a certain Benedict Cumberbatch got his hands on William Shakespeare’s „Hamlet“ last year in London’s Barbican those purists had to endure beat after beat: People ran wild! Queued for tickets! Young folks watched a play live on stage for the very first time in their lives! How could that happen? And they still watch it whenever a live recording hits a cinema within reach.

And now it is Shakespeare all over again, three of his plays transformed into three 2 hours films, bringing the bloody Wars of the Roses into living rooms where the audience watched how a tyrant was made. A tyrant in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch whose Richard III took over the screen  step by step in „Henry VI, 2“ until he rules it completely in the defining part of „Richard III“. And he does so by luring the audience into his thoughts, his grief and his rage, leaving you wondering if you should be appalled by a cripple who is so terrible deformed or if you should feel sorry for a man who had been an outsider for all his life. The very first scene where Richard has one of his soliloquies speaking directly to the audience reveals not only his violent ambitions. It also shows that he is a vulnerable human being – naked upwards from the waist, a deformed back, a hand he can’t use – desperately trying to find his path where Richard is only true to his only ally, the audience, addressed directly to the camera in his soliloquies.

„I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, deform’d, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce made up – and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me, as I halt by them.“ Richard III, I,1

All these different feelings, the cruelty of a man driven by ambition, hate, haunted by the ghosts of the men he killed are brilliantly performed by Benedict Cumberbatch who always is in control of the audience’s attention, who grabs their hands, takes them on a ride and leaves them crying for a king who died on a muddy battlefield. It seems that Benedict’s performance gets better and better with every new role. He clearly is on the height of his abilities, bringing every emotion you can possibly think of to life within the wink of an eye or the move of a hand. And of course his voice talking Shakespeare’s English –  making it vivid and just beautiful.

So may all of those professional critics analyse every letter, every scene, every move of the camera, may they shout at the BBC for tearing Shakespeare down to the small screen and may they shout at Benedict Cumberbatch for whatever reason they may possible find. One of his faults clearly is bringing a new audience to Shakespeare. If this is a fault, I can find more to blame this man for.

Hollow Crown, Shakespeare and Benedict Cumberbatch

No, I’m not a Shakespeare expert. Far from that. Although I can imagine that reading his works might be the same challenge for native English speakers as it is for me reading Goethe or Schiller, getting the meaning of Shakespearian English is indeed a challenge. And it doesn’t get easier watching a play live on stage or a film version.

Unless you have a production team and a broadcaster that have the courage to  throw two hours of a 400 years old play on their audience, including lots of artificial blood, mud, ancient buildings and a very fine crew of actors to bring William Shakespeare’s War of the Roses to life. The second series of BBC Two’s Hollow Crown has all this. And it has a Benedict Cumberbatch whose Richard (soon to be King in the third episode of this series) goes all the way from an awkward but still nice ish teenager – his first appearance is all cheerful – to a cruel villain ready to climb on England’s throne, killing everyone in his way. We watch a young man who loves and adores his father who considers himself as rightful heir to the throne, a young man who from the very first scene always stands a bit aside, limping with a stiff leg and a hunchback – and is mocked for this and the fact that his birth apparently wasn’t an easy one, leaving him disabled into a world full of warriors.

„This word ‚love‘ (…) be resident in men like one another, and not in me.
I am myself alone.“ Henry VI 3, V,6.

As if this isn’t enough to harm a man, Richard is an eye witness when his younger brother is killed. His shock and fear is the audience’s because it is all written in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and we know that this is the final reason that turns Richard into the monstrous villain.

„And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault to harbour such a thought.“ Henry VI 3, III,2

But it is not a villain that is totally disgusting and appalling. Richard is scaring, thrilling, seductive and – surprisingly enough  – funny and you realise you care for a man who admits all he longs for in the end is his brother’s crown no matter how many men he has to kill to reach that aim. But Richard is not only just bad. He’s a man who feels utterly alone since early childhood, a man who knows that he will not find true love because of his deformities.

If it is true that „Richard III“ is one of the most demanding roles for any actor, it’s not for Benedict Cumberbatch. Because he brings every tiny detail of that character to life without any visible effort, leaving his audience speechless in front of the telly (or where ever you have the good fortune to catch this film), realising that you haven’t moved since two hours – except for opening your mouth in disbelief, murmuring „Oh my God“ every once in a while and totally forgotten that you are watching a Shakespeare play normally considered as difficult stuff.  We don’t know if  William Shakespeare thought of a special actor when writing his play. But maybe you need a Benedict Cumberbatch to make a villain sexy.

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time

Time. You will need time. Because when you start Ian McEwan’s „The Child in Time“ it will hook you from the very beginning and will only release you to your real life after you have read the very last word.  At least that happened to me – and to be honest it always happens when I start a work of Ian McEwan I happily discover book by book both in English and in German (thanks to Diogenes who offers both brilliant translations and wonderful made copies).

In „The Child in Time“ Ian McEwan tells the story of Stephen, author of children’s book,  member of a committee dealing with children’s education, happily married to Julie and father of three-year-old Kate. The perfect life is turned upside down when Kate vanishes in a supermarket literally in bright daylight and under the caring eyes of her father. Realising that the worst nightmare of parents has come true, Stephen’s existence is lost somewhere in between memories of his parents and childhood, his every day life duties and the desperate search for his daughter. It is only after a while and the separation from his wife, he learns that he has to struggle with time itself.

„It’s got something to do with time obviously, with seeing something out of time.“

Hopping between different plots and different  flashbacks could be confusing and boring for the reader who could be in danger to lose the plot if the author is unable to control all the lines. But it could be thrilling and exciting when it is done by a brilliant author that is Ian McEwan. He, being an amazing story teller, describes every single detail to create a world that seems both very familiar and very strange as things are unfolding for the thrilled and hooked reader. The only problem is that even brilliant books have an ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time, Vintage Books, £8,99.

You can find my latest blog entry on IanMcEwan here.

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