Isnin, 19 Disember 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

'Two and a Half Men' funeral tops most-DVR'd list

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:51 PM PST

LOS ANGELES ( - What do Ben Roethlisberger's Super Bowl choke and ''Two and a Half Men's'' send-off to deceased cad Charlie Harper have in common? They were the most-TiVo'ed moments on television in 2011.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger's incomplete pass to Mike Wallace during Super Bowl XLV was the year's most ''time-shifted'' television moment, according to DVR company TiVo's newly released annual report.

Coming in second was the eulogy for Charlie Sheen's character on ''Two and a Half Men'' during the show's September season premiere.

The Best Pictures Oscar win for ''The King's Speech'' at the Academy Awards came in third, while ''Modern Family'' - a DVR favorite - rounded out TiVo's Top 5 television moments with its ''After the Fire'' and ''Hit and Run'' episodes.

Speaking of ''Modern Family,'' the ABC comedy has overtaken ''Grey's Anatomy'' as the top-ranked show on the company's ''Season Pass'' list, which automatically records shows week-to-week, regardless of time-slot changes.

The medical drama had held the top ranking for months.

(In this case, DVR use appears to echo real-time viewing; ''Modern Family'' consistently leads the ratings on Wednesday nights.)

In terms of network breakdown, the most-DVR'ed series - at least within the scope of TiVo's study - air on the CW, with ''The Vampire Diaries,'' ''Gossip Girl'' and ''Smallville'' being viewed in time-shifted mode more than 83 percent of the time.

This would seem to be in alignment with the CW's younger audience, which presumably has better things to do than plunk itself in front of the television in accordance with the network's dictated schedule.

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TV to the letter

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 01:52 AM PST

It's the end of the year, and we thought we'd like to trace what made 2011 such a worthwhile year where TV is concerned. So we're giving you an alphabet's worth of things to think about.

A – Australians

They're everywhere, have you noticed? Toni Collette (United States Of Tara), Simon Baker (The Mentalist, The Guardian), Rose Byrne (Damages), Anna Torv (Fringe), Jason Clarke (Chicago Code), Jesse Spencer (House), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break), Ryan Kwaten (True Blood) ... yeah, I know! Amazing when you think about it, how the Aussies have surreptitiously infiltrated our homes through our TV sets. And then you flip to a food channel thinking it's safe there, and you have the likes of Curtis Stone and Adrian Richardson telling you how to grocery shop properly or make your own sausage!

B – Bishop

Walter and Peter Bishop (pic below) of the strange series Fringe, to be precise. Walter is a former government agent researcher with a recorded IQ of 196 (who keeps a cow in his lab), who's been institutionalised (one of the best mad scientists on TV, no doubt), and has a very, very dishy son in the form of Peter, his team-mate in the Fringe science division. Peter also comes with a crazy IQ of 190, is a college dropout and has huge gambling debts, but you got to love his wit and occasional bursts of wisdom. (Oh, and did you know John Nobel is Australian too? What, they've infiltrated the parallel universe, too?)


Technically, we should have long been over CSIs of any sort. But we seem to be addicted to murder, mayhem, mystery and forensic science. The characters – be they from Vegas, Miami or New York – have all become part of our lives somehow. It's like watching old friends doing what they do best. And since they've been making the show since 2000, there are more than enough episodes to keep us coming back for more, and more.

D – Dancing With The Stars

We aren't great dancers. But after watching a couple of episodes of Dancing With The Stars (Season 13), we wish we knew how to dance better. Those professional dancers on the show are ah-may-zingg. So strong, so flexible, so agile. And the celebrities? Well, some of them are truly, truly impressive. We want to be able to dance the samba, the jive and the quickstep, too. In fact, Indra recently borrowed some instructional dance DVDs from a friend – hoping to live out her fantasies in the confines of her home (curtains drawn, of course). Indra's favourite team? Ricki Lake (she moves so fluidly for a non-dancer) and Derek Hough (he's phenomenal)! Ann Marie's favourite? JR Martinez and Karina Smirnoff.

E – E!

Indra's favourite programme on the E! channel is Fashion Police. Why? Because Joan Rivers just cracks her up. Rivers is irreverant and catty, but always humourous with her comments about celebrities and their fashion faux pas. And she doesn't mind taking a few jabs at herself either. Some of her more memorable comments? When Paula Abdul wore a particularly ghastly outfit, Rivers commented: "With all the voices in her head, you'd think one would be a gay guy going, 'No!'". And, when Jessica Alba wore a doozy on the red carpet, Rivers went: "This dress is the ugliest thing created in Italy since Donatella Versace." Ouch. She's so bad, I love her!

F – Food

Watching food related programmes has never been so good. We've got a smorgasbord of food programmes; and whether it's a reality show (Masterchef, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen) or one which features a presenter (Anna Olson, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Adrian Richardson, Curtis Stone, Laura Calder, Sandra Lee, Michael Smith) or the kind that takes you to various places – sometimes across the world (Tablescapes, The Maverick Chef, A Cook's Tour, Ho Chak!) – or gives you tips and interesting ideas (Cook Like A Chef, Restaurant Makeover), watching people cook up stuff on TV has never been so delectable.

G – Glee Project

Ann Marie absolutely loved the Glee Project and thought it was a fabulous idea to inject new enthusiasm into the series. GP was a reality show of sorts, which served as an audition platform for the Fox TV series Glee. The prize for the winner was a seven-episode arc in the following season of the show. The series was helmed by Glee casting director Robert Ulrich, whom Ann Marie absolutely swooned over. The winners – Damian McGinty and Samuel Larsen – each earned a spot on the show (seven-episode arcs) which we've yet to see here in Malaysia. There are already reports of a second season for the show.

H – How I Met Your Mother

We're fed up of waiting. Ted Moseby, introduce your damn wife already. Barney Stintson's entertainment value has long run out and we are not amused.

I – Indian invasion

Is it just us or do you also feel the sudden influx of Indian actors (or, to be politically correct, actors of Indian origin) on TV these days. There's Divya Katdare (played by Reshma Shetty) on Royal Pains; Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) on Big Bang Theory; Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) on Heroes (don't beat yourself up if you don't remember him, he was a real snoozefest); Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) in The Good Wife; Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) in The Office, Johnathan (Maulik Pancholy) in 30 Rock and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) in Parks And Recreation, to name a few. Makes you wonder, right? Hey Ann Marie, should we try our luck?

J – Jon Hamm

Okay, so we really haven't made enough time to properly watch Mad Men. But that Jon Hamm, we thought he definitely deserved mention. Come to think of it, actually we think it is Don Draper we love so much, but seeing that Hamm did take home an emmy in 2008 for his portrayal, we'll give him props, too. In Mad Men, Draper is the Creative Director of a Manhattan advertising firm. The character is, in fact, partially based on Draper Daniels, the creative head of the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago in the 1950s. We think Jon Hamm just rocks in character. Those 50s suits and styles fit him like a glove.

K – Killer appeal

Is it weird that Indra has a favourite killer on TV? Well, technically Dexter isn't really a killer, since he only kills bad guys ... right? Think about it – wouldn't it be a great idea to have a vigilante like Dexter looking out for you, exterminating all the scummy criminals who escape the law and continue to be scum on earth? Kinda like having your own personal superhero? Yes, Dexter rocks. (BTW Dexter, we like your shirts ... especially when you don't have them on!)

L – The L-Word

As in Hugh Laurie, Damian Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jason Lee, John Lithgow, Robert Sean Leonard. What else is there to say?

M – Masterchef

So many Masterchef series, and just not enough viewing time. Ann Marie loves watching the masterclasses and is aspiring someday to be able to cook as well as the Bliss Sisters (12 year-olds Isabella and Sofia; Isabella won the first Masterchef Junior title in Australia). Ann Marie's toughest critics are her kids who sound suspiciously like Gordon Ramsay on a very bad day.

N – Nudity

Who needs the censorship board when there was Indra's mother! When she was a kid, she was made to close her eyes whenever a kissing scene came on TV. Yes! She wasn't allowed to watch kissing scenes. Once the ban was lifted (when she was 30-something ... kidding!), Indra was sorely dissappointed. Nudity on TV is seriously overated. And so unsexy. She'd much rather see Alexander Skarsgard in a pair of blue jeans (and nothing else) than completely nude. Agree?

O – Oprah

The curtain closed on The Oprah Show this year and boy, were there tears. We must confess, there was a time we were huge fans of The Oprah Show, mostly because she brought many celebrities onto her show and we used to virtually be celebrity stalkers. At the time, there weren't too many programmes on our TV channels where celebrities came on and spilt their guts – well, not actually. We stopped watching The Oprah Show a few years ago – she got a tad overbearing and fell short as an interviewer. No matter who she brings onto her show, she ends up talking mostly about herself, often interrupting her guests, too. Gah!

P – Police procedurals

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NCIS, Criminal Behavior, Hawaii Five-O – there's actually heaps to keep you busy playing detective from the safe confines of your couch.

Q – Quirky characters

Remember crazy Kramer from sitcom Sienfeld? Or anal Adrian Monk on Monk? Peculiar Phoebe from Friends and neurotic Niles from Frasier? Quirky characters certainly contribute to a lot of laughter on TV. One of my all-time favourite TV shows was 3rd Rock From The Sun which was full of quirky characters like Dr Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnston), Harry Solomon (French Stewart) and Dr Mary Albright (Jane Curtin) – well, three of them were aliens, so it may not be fair to call them quirky by human standards. Still, they were hilarious.

R – Remakes

So far, every TV show that has been remade has been a collosal dissappointment. Hawaii Five-O (though it started off well), Charlie's Angels, Knight Rider, Bionic Woman ... all dissappointments. We don't understand it. You know what show we'd like to remake? Moonlighting! Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard were private detectives David Addison and Madeleine Hayes in the 1980s comedy/drama/romance. The duo had awesome chemistry – a little bit of loving and a little bit of hating – and I think an updated version would work. Who should be cast? We'd pick Jensen Ackles as David and Archie Punjabi as Maddie.

S – Sheldon Cooper

He's got a BSC, MSC, MA, PhD, ScD and is a theoretical physicist who eats cereal, wears checkered pants, and needs the "soft kitty" song sung to him when he's sick. Brought to life in magnificent glory by actor Jim Parsons in the TV series Big Bang Theory, Sheldon also taught the TV-viewing masses how to play "rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock" (which is a five-gesture expansion of the classic selection method game rock-paper-scissors, which reduces the chances of a round ending in a tie compared to the more traditional game, and apparently, invented by Sam Kass and Karen Bryla).

T – Tyrion Lannister

Never short on wit, sarcasm and all-round know-how, Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) gave us all something we loved tuning into (Game Of Thrones) even if it was for just 10 episodes. Season Two, where are you?

U – Unceremoniously axed

This isn't a rant, but let's take a moment to pay tribute to brilliant shows that were taken off the air too early. Life (of course), Detroit 187, Chicago Code, Pushing Daisies, Veronica Mars, Dead Like Me, Firefly, Jericho, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Pan Am (hasn't come here and probably never will, but we've caught a few episodes and kind of like it). For all these casualties of bad network decisions, a moment of silence please.

V – Vulgarity

Hey, did you know there was an online petition (signed by more than 70,000 people) sent to the E! channel to get the Kardashians off TV? Apparently, audiences – even fans of the K-clan – have had enough of the antics of Kris, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe. They're loud, lewd and vulgar, but what drove audiences over the edge, apparently, was Kim's over-the-top wedding (which was aired over two or three episdoes on E!), which disintegrated after just 72 days. Anyone smell a rat? Hopefully, the shows' producers (ahem, Mr Seacrest are you listening?) heed the public's call.

W – Winchesters Brothers

Who are the sexiest brothers on TV? (All together now – imagine ring announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund saying this) The Winchester Brothers! (Clap! Clap! Clap). Ok. Maybe one brother is sexier – Dean, of course. Sam's just a little too intense for us . Like, loosen up a little, will ya? Yeah, we know you've got demon issues, but can you chill for a second?

X – X Files

How we long for its return.

Y – Youth

Do the young people on TV annoy the heck out of you? Or is that just young people in general? Think Terra Nova and 90210.

Z – Zooey Deschanel

The beautiful Zooey (New Girl) and her sister Emily (of Bones fame) put the cool in weird.

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Men sound off on Capital FM

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 04:19 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Almost three weeks after bursting onto the radio scene with its unique offering of women-focused content and entertainment, Capital FM 88.9 has got men all abuzz as well – with some loving it and others not knowing what to make of it.

Sales executive who only wants to be known as Shukri, 40, wondered why most of the topics discussed were "so scary".

"They were talking about cancer, menopause and other things like that."

"I don't want my wife to get into a bad mood after hearing all that. If she's in a bad mood, then I will be in trouble," he said.

He said the radio should be a medium to entertain people and not turn them off with "too many frightening stories".

Telecommunications analyst Joseph Kang, 30, said he felt some of the DJs were "too high-brow".

"They sometimes talk on gender and lifestyle issues which are beyond me," he said.

However, other men defended the station and said the topics discussed were a "refreshing change" as they provided insightful views into women's needs and wants.

Photographer Jeremy Choy, 22, said he loved the song selection and the unique concept of a radio station that focused on providing content for women.

"To be honest, women have their own opinions and they rarely accept men's ideas. They have the right to choose what they want to air," he said.

Events manager Naveen Raj, 29, said a women-focused station was great as long as it did not become "too sexist".

"They should get views from both men and women," he said.

Capital FM DJ Sheela Haran, who hosts the 8pm to midnight weekday show, welcomed the fact that some men enjoyed tuning in as well.

"It's fantastic. We're not out there to make men hate us nor exclude them.

"My show is a platform and sounding board for women to air their views in a comfortable environment," she said, referring to her decision not to put male callers on air.

Sheela, however, stressed that she welcomed male views and discussed their opinions during her show.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

U.S. House Republicans push for new payroll tax cut talks

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:15 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives will set the stage on Tuesday for a showdown with Senate Democrats over a payroll tax cut extension that is becoming a proxy for 2012 election year battles.

White House spokesman Jay Carney points to a payroll tax cut extension count down monitor in the briefing room of the White House in Washington December 19, 2011. House Speaker John Boehner effectively killed a short-term tax break and called on lawmakers to negotiate a full year payroll tax cut extension for 160 million U.S. workers. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The tax legislation has become the latest in a string of battles in Congress this year, all of which have contributed to widespread public discontent with Washington politicians.

When the House votes on Tuesday it will in effect be rejecting a bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Saturday and calling for formal negotiations with the Democratic-led Senate.

The Senate bill would set a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut with the aim of crafting a full-year tax cut extension early next year.

The House move will cast doubt on the future of the popular payroll tax cut, which is caught up in a high-stakes game of brinkmanship between the two political parties that some say could backfire.

Washington gridlock is fuelling an anti-incumbent mood among voters heading into next year's elections.

"Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again," House Speaker John Boehner said late on Monday after a closed meeting with fellow Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shot back that the House should allow an up-or-down vote on the two-month stop-gap plan. "I am happy to continue negotiations on a yearlong deal as soon as the House of Representatives passes the Senate's bipartisan compromise, and prevents a tax hike from hitting middle-class families," Reid said.

Several Republican lawmakers publicly agreed with Reid.

The bipartisan two-month deal crafted by the Senate came after efforts at a full-year tax cut failed.

At stake is much more than politicians' reputations and their 2012 re-election chances. If Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on extending the tax cut that expires on December 31, 160 million Americans will begin 2012 with less money - about $1,000 (644.33 pounds) a year for the average worker - in their paychecks.

That, economists fear, could dampen, or even end what little economic growth there is as the United States struggles to right itself after the deepest recession in decades and severe debt problems in Europe that could infect America.

Not only would workers' taxes go up in a couple weeks if the two sides cannot find a quick compromise. About 2.2 million people who have suffered long-term unemployment will see benefit checks cut off by the middle of February. And doctors treating elderly Medicare patients also will see their reimbursements cut.

Once the House on Tuesday requests a new round of negotiations, as expected, the next steps are unclear.

"We are not coming back, we are not appointing negotiators until they pass the Senate compromise," Reid's spokesman Adam Jentleson insisted.

President Barack Obama already has delayed a Hawaii vacation. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday said, "The president has made clear that he wants Congress to get this done, that he is here now and will be here as Congress tries to sort this out." But Carney did not make clear how Obama might bring the two sides together, or whether he will even try.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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U.S. payroll tax cut extension stuck in partisan fight

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 06:33 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With a tax cut for 160 million U.S. workers set to expire in less than two weeks, Republicans and Democrats in Congress on Monday were mired in a last-ditch battle over extending it.

White House spokesman Jay Carney points to a payroll tax cut extension count down monitor in the briefing room of the White House in Washington December 19, 2011. House Speaker John Boehner effectively killed a short-term tax break and called on lawmakers to negotiate a full year payroll tax cut extension for 160 million U.S. workers. REUTERS/Jason Reed

In a surprise turnabout, Republicans in the House of Representatives are now pushing for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut and have rejected a short-term compromise struck by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate at the weekend.

House Republicans had initially expressed concerns over the economic benefits of renewing the tax break, which expires on December 31, and soon-to-expire jobless benefits.

The House is set to vote sometime during the day on Tuesday to formally request negotiations with the Senate on a new bill.

But the path to compromise was far from clear as Democrats took a hardline stance and accused House Republicans of reneging on the deal between their brethren and Democrats in the Senate.

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid said he was unwilling to reopen negotiations. Almost all senators have already left Washington for the holidays and the Democratic-controlled chamber has no legislative business scheduled until January 23.

The stand-off between Republicans and Democrats raised the spectre of a $1,000 (644.58 pound) tax hike on the average American worker and millions of unemployed losing their benefits. One influential economist told Reuters that failure to extend the tax break heightened the possibility of a U.S. recession in 2012.

The rebellion by House Republicans against the Senate deal, which had the blessing of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, raised fresh questions about Speaker John Boehner's control over his restive caucus, which has repeatedly balked this year at compromising with Democrats.

At issue is a phone call between Boehner and rank-and-file members on Saturday. A veteran House Republican member, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters Boehner initially backed the Senate deal but back-pedalled after being caught off guard by the angry response of members.

Boehner has since denied flip-flopping on the issue.

Boehner has struggled to control his caucus, which includes scores of Tea Party-affiliated members elected to Congress in the November 2010 elections, propelled by voters furious about a bad economy and government spending.

A House Republican aide, who asked not to be identified, said McConnell kept Boehner informed of last week's Senate negotiations. But the aide declined to elaborate when asked by Reuters whether the Speaker had pushed back against the two-month extension.


At least two Republican senators blasted House Republicans for refusing to approve the Senate deal.

"The House Republicans' plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong," said Republican Senator Scott Brown.

Senator Richard Lugar said House members must do what is "best for the country" and pass the Senate measure.

Without a deal, workers' payroll taxes will rise on January 1 to 6.2 percent, from the current 4.2 percent. Some unemployment benefits, now at 99 weeks amid the weak economy, also would begin phasing out early next year, ending benefits for millions of people who have been jobless for an extended period.

The end-of-year fight caps a tumultuous year and will deepen the sense of dysfunction in Washington. This latest battle caught even cynical Capitol Hill watchers by surprise.

Credit rating agencies are already sceptical Washington's politicians have the political will to steer the country through global economic instability. Americans heading to the polls in 2012 have also lost confidence in Congress, opinion polls show.

For much of 2011, Republicans and Democrats sparred over spending, debt levels and taxes, bringing the government to the brink of shutdown and costing the United States its prized AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's rating agency.

Now, some economists are predicting even worse times ahead if Congress fails to renew the payroll tax cut.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, speaking to Reuters Insider, bluntly warned: "I do think recession odds will rise quite significantly early next year if it is not extended."

Zandi said most of the impact would be felt in the first half of 2012, at a time when the U.S. economy is most exposed to risks from a debt-riddled Europe and a continuing U.S. housing foreclosure crisis.

If the House formally requests negotiations with the Senate, as expected, Reid will have to decide whether to reverse course and bring senators back to do more legislating.

Before voting to request new talks with the Senate, the House is expected to defeat the Senate-passed bill, according to a House Republican aide.

If Reid then refuses to engage in new negotiations, it's unclear if lawmakers would find yet another way to avoid having the payroll tax revert to its pre-2011 6.2 percent, at least until early next year when Congress starts its 2012 session.

(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai, Kim Dixon and Thomas Ferraro; editing by Todd Eastham)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Jeered in Moscow, Putin seen as hero in province

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 06:20 PM PST

KYZYL, Russia (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin, faced with mass protests in large cities, has received a hero's welcome in the remote Russian region of Tyva where he campaigned to mobilise his core supporters ahead of the presidential election in March 2012.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gestures during a televised questions and answers session in Moscow December 15, 2011. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

Tens of thousands of people have protested this month in Moscow and other cities against alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary election. Many directed their anger at Putin, who has ruled Russia since 2000.

In Tyva, a region on the border with Mongolia five hours by air from Moscow, the mood on Monday was different. Hundreds of locals, many wearing colourful local hats and overcoats, braved temperatures well below freezing to catch a glimpse of Putin.

"Putin is our leader, it is so good he could make it here," said Eres Khuruk, adding that he had waited in the cold in the barren steppe for two hours with his wife to shake Putin's hand and watch the ceremony of a railroad construction launch.

Putin hammered a golden spike at a spot outside the capital Kyzyl to mark the start of construction of Tyva's first railroad which will link the region, known for its wildlife and natural resources, to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Workers and local residents rushed to Putin when he finished, trying to shake his hand, shouting "Vladimir Vladimirovich" and taking pictures. Putin looked confused as he moved through the exhilarated crowd.

"You should not wash your hands now," one worker told a female colleague who has just shaken Putin's hand and was smiling happily.

"I managed to hold his hand for the whole of 10 seconds," another worker said.

When completed, the 400-km (250-mile) railway will transport Tyva's coal and other mineral resources to markets such as Japan, China and South Korea as the region seeks to repeat the success story of neighbouring Mongolia.

Putin's United Russia party scored over 85 percent of votes in the Buddhist region of 300,000 and many people have said they will vote for Putin again in the presidential election. Very few had heard of the protests in Moscow.

Putin's advisers are seeking to spin the protests as a whim of Moscow-based intellectuals who represent a tiny minority while the rest of the vast country still backs the 59-year-old leader.

"He is a sportsman and I am a sportsman. I respect him very much," Aidar, a sumo wrestler, said. "Moscow is very far," he added when asked what he thought of the protests.

Putin is a frequent guest in Tyva, one of Russia's most exotic corners. In 2007 he took Monaco's Prince Albert to the region for a rafting journey down the Yenisei River and a tour of an ancient Uigur fortress.

Widely circulated pictures of Putin riding a horse bare-chested and swimming across the river were taken in Tyva during his 2009 holiday.

The region's head, former martial arts fighter Sholban Kara-Ool, sought to express his indignation at Moscow protests when he met with Putin.

"Sometimes things we see in the mass media make us outraged. I just wanted to tell you what simple people think about it," Kara-Ool told Putin.

"Let's talk business," Putin responded, interrupting him. "What is the situation in the republic?"

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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No sense in opting for zonal format in MJHL when it was proven a flop

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:43 PM PST

HOCKEY'S popularity in Malaysia is fast fading. The national hockey team's struggles to make an impact on the international scene is one of the reasons for its decline over the years.

And to imagine that hockey used to be one of the top sports in the country after football, badminton and maybe even athletics.

So one would expect the hockey governing body to do everything they can to reignite interest in the game - from grassroots development to holding hockey tournaments.

And speaking of tournaments, the men's hockey calendar for 2012 kicks off next month with the Malaysia Junior Hockey League (MJHL).

That's well and fine.

But what's troubling hockey fans is that with less than a month to go, nobody seems to know what is the format for the tournament.

A meeting will be held today to discuss the matter, with the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) favouring the zonal format.

The meeting is basically to tell the clubs about the zonal format and to get their feedback.

Then, at the end of the three-hour meeting, the clubs are to decide whether they are okay with the zonal format.

What is perplexing is that the decision to change the format was made in July after a seminar and agreed to by the state secretaries.

The following month, the executive council of the former MHF endorsed the format change.

Why didn't the competitions committee give a copy of the format to the clubs and get their feedback then?

The MJHL is due to start in less than a month and clubs are going to be given a matter of hours to decide.

It is important that the clubs speak up now to ensure their interest is given priority. It is they who spend money and time to prepare the team for the MJHL.

The zonal system has been proven to be a flop.

Just go down the road a few months ago and see what it did to the Razak Cup competition.

The zonal system was supposed to have a qualifying round where only the top two teams from each zone would make the Finals. But when 16 teams signed up, the competitions committee changed their minds and allowed all teams to go through to the Finals.

Obviously, none of the states took the qualifiers seriously. What a joke!

It was only recently that the executive council informed the committee to revert to the old format for the Razak Cup.

Yet, we are now heading down the same road for the MJHL.

It's been months since the seminar ended in July, yet none of the officials are able to give a rational explanation in wanting to change something that has been in existence since the MJHL started in 1995.

Some members of the committee say they hope to see more teams participate. Good idea. Some even venture to say that the Final round should have just quality teams.

But isn't that why there was a two–division format in the first place?

In what way will changing the format make the MJHL better or more competitive? And why should a team wanting to play at the national level, be confined to just their zone?

There is simply no sense in opting for the zonal format.

What is even more glaring is the lack of information flowing through to all the affiliates. It seems like everything is so highly top secret.

Organising chairman Datuk Abdul Rahim Mohamed Ariff pointed out that the secretaries had decided to give the zonal format a try for one year.

Sure, why not? But why keep everyone in the dark then?

Let's hope the clubs will ask the right questions when they meet today and also look at the long-term repercussions before agreeing to anything.

The MJHL has been the feeder ground in the development programme of the association and the stepping stone for many juniors to advance to the senior level.

The zonal system will restrict the teams from playing against teams from other states in different zones.

The hockey scene does not need another confusion in the MJHL like what happened in the Razak Cup.

Finding ways to improve the league and to make it more glamorous is the right thing to do.

Don't copy a failed system.

To the teams in the MJHL who will be at the meeting today, it is your call.

Even if you support the change, at least ask the right questions.

The future of the game is in your hands.

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Philippines to focus only on Asiad and Olympic sports

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:40 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Athletes from the Philippines for the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar will only compete in sports that feature in the Olympics and Asian Games.

Philippines Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia was quoted by the Philippine Star online portal as saying that this would help lower the participation cost in the biennial event as well as end the practice of fielding and funding athletes in sports where they have practically no chance of winning any medals.

"In the SEA Games, it has become a common practice for host countries to include indigenous or traditional sports and, most of the time, the hosts dominate the events," he said.

Garcia, who had just returned to Manila from the Asean Sports Ministers meeting in Indonesia, said that most of the SEA Games participating countries had agreed to limit the events to sports offered in the Olympics and Asian Games.

Acknowledging that it may be a little too late to adopt the changes for the Myanmar Games, he said what was important was that the proposal had been introduced to Asean members. — Bernama

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Simoncelli’s fatal crash casts a shadow on Stoner’s year

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:34 PM PST

PARIS: Marco Simoncelli's death at Sepang, Malaysia, in October cast a long shadow over the 2011 MotoGP season, the gifted Italian's untimely passing a shocking reminder of the ever present dangers attached to the sport.

The tragedy, which followed one year on from the death of Japanese teenager Shoya Tomizawa, robbed the grid of one of its brightest and quickest stars.

Simoncelli, the flamboyant 2008 Moto2 world champion with the distinctive Jimi Hendrix hairstyle, was making waves in the top division in what was only his second season.

Two pole positions and two podiums for Honda augured well for the popular rider's future title prospects.

Casey Stoner, who only the week earlier was crowned 2011 MotoGP world champion at home in the Australian Grand Prix, led the tributes to Simoncelli at Sepang, saying: "When something like this happens you remember how precious life is."

Another MotoGP colleague and friend, Andrea Dovizioso, commented: "Marco was a courageous rider and he always fought hard. We've battled on the track since we were kids. I often saw him fall off but without any harm. He appeared indestructible."

Sepang was the penultimate leg of a year which saw Stoner claim his second MotoGP crown.

The Honda rider took the title in Phillip Island after his closest rival, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo, crashed in practice.

The Spaniard had to be flown back to Madrid for surgery to re-attach the ring finger on his left hand, leaving Stoner to power to victory in a wire-to-wire win on his 26th birthday.

Second across the line that day was Simoncelli in what was to be his best ever performance in MotoGP.

Stoner, who claimed his first MotoGP title in 2007, enjoyed a standout season.

The Honda ace made the podium in every race bar Jerez, wrapping up the year in the best possible fashion with victory in the season-closing race in Valencia.

That was his 10th win of 2011 and it was achieved in memorable style as he pipped American Ben Spies on the line.

Stoner's points haul of 350 was 90 clear of Lorenzo, with Dovizioso ending up with 228 points in third.

Multiple world champion Valentino Rossi had a quiet time by his standards, the Ducati man coming in seventh, tied on 139 points with his fallen compatriot, Simoncelli.

In Moto2 the crown went to Stefan Bradl of Germany, the Kalex rider triumphing when his sole rival, Marc Marquez of Spain, pulled out of the title decider in Spain.

Bradl laid down his marker for the season when rattling off wins in four of the first six races.

Marquez hit back with six out of seven wins but the 2010 125cc champion was then kyboshed when he fell in testing in Sepang, forcing his no-show in Valencia.

In the 125 class the crown went to Aprilia's Spanish rider Nicolas Terol when he took second to 16-year-old sensation Maverick Venales, who finished third in the standings, in the season-closer.

Terol will be remembered as the last ever 125 champion as the category is reborn next year as Moto3.

MotoGP also undergoes a transformation with the introduction of 1000cc bikes to replace the existing 800cc engines.

Stoner, for one, is seduced by the idea of gunning for his third title on the bigger model, describing the new engine as "fantastic with incredible acceleration". — AFP

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AT&T drops $39 bln bid to buy T-Mobile USA

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:24 PM PST

NEW YORK REUTERS - AT&T said it had agreed with Deutsche Telekom to drop its $39 billion bid to buy the German company's U.S. wireless unit amid increasing regulatory obstacles to the planned deal.

AT&T said in a statement on Monday that it will enter a roaming agreement with Deutsche Telekom.

AT&T's plan to buy T-Mobile USA, first announced in March, has met with opposition from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

In late November AT&T said it would take a $4 billion charge in case the deal collapsed, including a $1 billion book value for the spectrum AT&T would have to give to T-Mobile USA.

The charge is part of a break-up fee agreement, giving Deutsche Telekom a cash payment of $3 billion, roaming services agreement and a package of mobile licences for T-Mobile USA.

Deutsche Telekom said it will return to reporting T-Mobile USA as part of its continuing operations and that its group forecast for 2011 of an expected earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of around 19.1 billion euros would remained unchanged.

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Apple wins U.S. trade body patent ruling vs. HTC

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:21 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple Inc scored a narrow victory against Taiwan's HTC Corp in their smartphone patents battle, after the International Trade Commission found HTC infringed on one of Apple's patents.

The U.S. trade agency imposed a formal import ban on Monday on any HTC phones that infringe on the patent, starting April 19, 2012.

Experts say however that the ITC's decision would not hurt the Asian phone giant because the ruling covered just one patent that HTC has time to work around. The company said on Monday it planned to completely remove technology linked to the patent - which it called a "small user-interface experience" - from its phones.

The patent in question -'647 - relates to technology that helps users clicking on phone numbers and other types of data in a document, such as an email, to either dial directly or click on the data to bring up more information.

HTC said it was "gratified" that the judge reversed some of the earlier decisions of an administrative law judge, who ruled in July that HTC infringed two Apple patents in making its Android smartphones.

"We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. However, the '647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon," Grace Lei, HTC's General Counsel said in a statement.

An Apple spokeswoman could not be immediately reached.

Given the import ban only starts April 19, HTC has time to design a fix around the patent.

"It's a limited victory for a variety of reasons," said Peter Toren, intellectual property litigator and partner with Shulman Rogers, who added the ruling does not stop HTC from importing as many phone as it likes until April.

"It gives HTC plenty of time to implement a design-around, which I understand they are already working on," he said. "The order does in fact take effect in April, but the practical impact won't be felt for some months after that."

Smartphone technology has spawned a wealth of patent litigation. Apple has filed complaints against Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which also uses Android software. Apple recently settled a case against Nokia .

Microsoft Corp and Motorola Mobility also have filed smartphone related lawsuits against each other.

Apple initially accused HTC of infringing 10 patents, but six were dropped from the case. The ITC judge had then ruled that HTC infringed two of the remaining four.

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Bank of America shares close below $5

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:19 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp shares closed below $5 on Monday for the first time since March 2009 amid continued concern about its need to build capital.

The stock closed at $4.99, down 4 percent, after dropping as low as $4.92. The shares have not closed below $5 since March 11, 2009.

In recent months, the shares of financial institutions have declined on worries about the global economy and possible exposure to sovereign defaults in Europe.

"It's more of the same," said Joe Gordon, managing partner at North Carolina-based Gordon Asset Management, which manages about $525 million for investors. "The news keeps getting more sobering."

Bank of America, in particular, faces concerns about whether it has enough capital to absorb mortgage-related losses and meet new international standards.

The Federal Reserve is expected to release a proposal this week for how it will oversee the largest U.S. banks, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The proposal will include new capital and liquidity requirements.

When the bank's shares were last below $5 in March 2009, they were on their way up from a financial crisis low of $3.14 earlier in the month. The bank's shares have fallen about 63 percent in 2011, compared with a 30 percent drop in the KBW Bank Index.

Bank of America now has a market capitalization slightly above $50 billion, making it less valuable than Amgen Inc or American Express Co and only a little more than CVS Caremark Corp .

Investors are worried about steeper capital requirements because that will mean banks will have less capital for loans, said Gary Townsend, chief executive of Maryland-based Hill-Townsend Capital, which invests in financial stocks.

"We have a fragile financial system, especially in Europe and we continue to treat our financial institutions roughly," he said.

Considering Bank of America's tangible book value per share is $13, the stock may be oversold and could rebound, Townsend said. But Gordon of Gordon Asset Management said many investors are uncertain about the true value of bank's assets because of uncertainty about real estate prices.

Despite the fall in the share price, Bob Weisse, director of research at Heritage Financial Services Inc, said he is not selling out of the funds he owns that have large holdings in Bank of America.

Specifically, $15 million of Heritage's $650 million in assets under management is invested in Bruce Berkowitz's Fairholme Funds Inc , which has 6.1 percent of its fund in Bank of America, its fifth largest holding.

"It's an uncomfortable holding in the near term, but I do think looking out five years from now the stock will be much higher," Weisse said. "It's just a tough market right now."

Bruce Berkowitz declined to comment about Bank of America's stock slide.

Some mutual funds may have charters that restrict holding stocks below $5, but the extent of such charters may not be significant enough to be a huge market factor.

When Bank of America's shares were struggling in August, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc purchased $5 billion of the bank's preferred shares, providing a much needed boost in confidence in the company.

When the investment became public on August 25, the shares jumped more than 9 percent to $7.65. Since then, the stock has mostly sagged. Buffett's investment also included the right to buy 700 million shares of Bank of America's common stock at $7.14 per share, but those warrants are currently under water.

Bank of America chief executive officer Brian Moynihan was part of a panel discussion on the economy on Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, but did not address his bank's stock price.

In his remarks, he said the bank's customers have shown "modestly encouraging" signs this month, spending 5 percent more so far in December than in the same period last year. The bank expects U.S. gross domestic product growth in 2012 of 2.1 percent, he said.

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Rapper-director Namewee goes on a gangster ‘haunt’

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:08 PM PST

KLANG: Controversial rapper-turned-filmmaker Namewee is tackling gangsterism in notorious Klang in his new movie titled Hantu Gangster.

"I've always wanted to do a gangster movie," he said.

"But I don't want to do just any gangster movie. It has to have elements of comedy and horror," he told The Daily Chilli on the movie set in Taman Pengkalan Batu Klang.

Those who have seen his runaway hit Nasi Lemak 2.0 will agree that Namewee has a peculiar way of making his social commentaries – be it in his movies or music.

"I've got friends who are gangsters," he revealed. "I know how the triads work."

Joking that the real gangsters will support him, Namewee said: "My movie is a patriotic film. It's nothing controversial. The message is positive. We even got the police to help us."

Hantu Gangster brings together Namewee and a multi-racial Malaysian cast comprising Diana Danielle, Farid Kamil, Noh Hujan, Mizz Nina, Dennis Lau, Reshmonu, Datuk David Arumugam, Datuk Jalaluddin Hassan, Wah Gor and Fa Chai Bao.

The action-comedy casts both Namewee and Farid in the lead roles.

Ironically, Namewee did not know that Diana, who plays a school teacher and his love interest in the movie, and Farid are a real-life couple until he hired them.

"That's why Diana and I accepted his offer," Farid quipped. "He did not try to exploit our romance in the movie. Our character attachment is not cliched."

Produced by Fred Chong's ProdiGee Media, Hantu Gangster is slated for a National Day release on Aug 31 next year.

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The art of deceit

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 01:09 AM PST

Who knew there were so many movies about fibbing, lying and subterfuge?

SOME say it is human nature while others call it a sin. Either way, none of us can dare deny the fact that we have lied, probably more than once, in our lives. Most people might even know a compulsive liar or two.

Somehow, we seem to come with a ready-made segment of our minds which specialises in fabrication.

Let's not pretend that we haven't told a harmless white lie before (or so we'd like to think) to save our derrieres from sticky situations.

But during desperate moments, desperate measures need to be taken!

While most of the tall stories that slip out in the heat of the moment leave us well and good alone, a fraction find their way back to haunt us.

If you feel the guilt creeping in, here are some Pinocchio-worthy Hollywood movies, that have spun more webs of lies than you can count, to make you feel better.

> The Truman Show (1998): Imagine living your entire life not knowing that your every move is being filmed and scrutinised into a TV show.

For Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), life has been little more than a staged act. Without him realising, his life has been broadcasted from thousands of cameras placed in his "home" which is a set populated by relatives and friends that are actually crew members.

However, little by little, Truman begins to discern tiny flaws. His "long-dead" father returns to the set dressed as a hobo, people constantly appear at the same place at the same time and his car radio begins to receive snippets of the crew talking.

To actually discover that millions of people have been watching you since you were born must be disturbing.

Heck, finding out that you were living with mere strangers must be a huge blow! Who said reality TV had a conscience?

> Catch Me If You Can (2002): This is a biographical comedy depicting the life of Frank Abagnale Jr (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is better known as the expert at cheque-forging, an infamous imposter as well as an escape artist.

At the mere of age of 16, Frank ran away from home and became a conman for a living. His cons only get bolder as he impersonates an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer, earning US$2.8mil in one go.

As he lies his way through situations, Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI fraud agent, tries to hunt the tricky crook down but he slips through his fingers time and time again.

This is the story of a man whose intelligence fuelled his ability to cheat, lie and deceive.

The movie grew to become critically-acclaimed and a financial success. We can't help but think that the real Frank Abagnale Jr has got it all in the bag: a million bucks and now even a movie about him!

> She's The Man (2006): She pretends to be a boy, sneaks into her brother's school, lies to her friends and roommate, all just for the one sport that she loves – soccer.

The "man" in this movie is none other than Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes) who impersonates her twin brother, Sabastian, to join the soccer team at Illyria (Viola and Sebastian are names of Shakespeare's characters from Twelfth Night).

But life only gets harder for Viola when the soccer team accepts her and her lies became increasingly suspicious to some of her schoolmates. However, everything goes perfectly well for Viola all thanks to her ludicrous lies that enable her to scrape through trouble each time until one day, the real Sabastian shows up unexpectedly.

Despite the fact that Viola is by all means a horrible liar, it's surprising that her teammates and coach believe everything she says. Even as her lies gets weirder, nobody but her rivals realise that she is female!

So girls, in the unlikely event that you would like to impersonate a boy just to play soccer, try lying about something daft like having skin problems to avoid taking your shirt off. That will probably save you from getting busted.

> Just Go With It (2011): From children to an Austrian online sheep seller, almost everyone in this movie is a liar.

Though the attraction for any man out there would be the hot blonde bombshell who plays the part of Palmer (that would be Brooklyn Decker), the story here really revolves around Danny Maccabee (Adam Sandler), a successful plastic surgeon and all around womaniser.

His supposedly fool-proof plan is to worm his way into the hearts of women by feigning a broken marriage but this only seems to unimpress her. Desperate, Danny forms a fake family out of the blue by convincing his long-time best friend and office manager, Katherine Humphrey (Jennifer Aniston), to be his wife and her children to be their children.

Add a trip to Hawaii into the equation and bam! the lies only keep getting bigger and bigger!

But as with all feelgood Adam Sandler movies, all's well that ends well when Danny realises he is, in fact, in love with Katherine.

It is the typical movie where the characters constantly build lies (each more ridiculous and hilarious than the last) to put up a show but instead of it exploding, the truth is discovered instead! As corny as it is, here's a web of lies that's works out well for the liars in question.

> Liar Liar (1997): This movie is about an accomplished liar who is unable to lie for an entire day all thanks to his son's birthday wish.

In this comedy, Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) is one of the best defence lawyers in California, and his talent of course, rests in the art of lying. When Fletcher misses his son's birthday party, Max makes a birthday wish to prevent his father from lying for a day.

For Fletcher, lying plays an important role in his job. But he later discovers that he is unable to withhold the truth after facing a series of embarrassing events. He has always been a loving father, but it is his dishonest ways that brings his family apart.

In just a span of 24 hours, poor Fletcher actually finds himself turning into a straightforward person. After all the disasterous occasions, who wouldn't?

Indeed, Fletcher Reede is one of those characters you can't help but love even though he lies almost compulsively.

This is one of those feelgood movies that'll definitely leave you in stitches. And after you're done watching that whole string of movies, you might just think twice the next time you cook up a harmless half truth!

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Man of the hour

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 11:51 PM PST

American actor Robert Downey Jr. has been acting for many years ... many, many years. He made his screen debut in his father's movie Pound in 1970 at the tender age of five and he has not looked back since. Working in both TV and film has garnered this 46-year-old both recognition in his acting circle as well as with many fans around the world.

Although the Oscar has eluded RDJ twice (one for Best Actor for his lead role in Chaplin; and the other for Best Supporting Actor in Tropic Thunder), he has won numerous other awards including the Golden Globes, the People's Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Award to name a few. He was one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People; Entertainment Weekly's Entertainer of the Year and he was number five in People's Magazine's The Sexiest Man Alive 2009.

But the accolades and recognition did come with a price. In the late 90s to the better part of 2001, Robert Downey Jr. was frequently in the news not for his acting but for his drug-related problems that led to several appearances in court – one for being under the influence of a controlled substance and falling asleep in one of his neighbour's home.

Court appearances and drug rehabilitations did not seem to matter to the actor, with many in the industry thinking he would meet an untimely death.

After a year in one of California's substance abuse treatment facility, RDJ landed a role in the hit TV series, Ally McBeal, playing the new love interest of Calista Flockhart's title character. Although his role in the series garnered him a Emmy Award nomination and won him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a min-series or television film, he was fired after two drug arrests.

In an interview conducted after he won the awards for his TV role, Downey Jr. said he was at his lowest point in terms of addiction and that he didn't care if he was to ever act again.

But in 2001, the actor decided he had had enough and that he was ready for a change. He told Oprah Winfrey in an interview "I told myself, I've lost my job, my wife left me and I'm a wreck. I don't think I can continue doing this. So, I reached out for help and I ran with it."

Downey Jr.'s return to fame wasn't as immediate; he starred in several semi-independent films and TV series including Family Guy, all the while hoping to land a blockbuster film – something he hadn't had the opportunity to do since he began his career.

His shot to fame came in 2008 when he took the lead in the critically and commercially successful franchise, Iron Man. Soon to follow was Tropic Thunder and then it was time to take on the role as Sherlock Holmes.

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes tore the box office topping several records and finishing second only to Avatar. Downey Jr. won the Golden Globe for his role but the Oscar prize still eludes him.

In an interview held recently in the United States to promote Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, the ever witty, good humoured actor tells us the paycheck he received for returning as the super sleuth wasn't the only reason he came back.

"The main reason to return for another round was that we had a really fun group of people the first time around. We have the right combination of people, and Guy Ritchie likes an atmosphere that isn't intense. You don't feel like there's hundreds of millions of dollars around you. It's very British in every sense of the word.

"I remember when Jude (Law;\, who plays his sidekick Dr Watson) and I were doing the press for the last movie, we went around telling people what a good movie it was and that maybe they should ask for another one. I'm glad that happened.

Was the sequel easy to come back to? 

I think it's simple to do because (author, Conan) Doyle is a great and inventive writer particularly with these characters he had. You could never run out of interesting material.  

You have, shall we say a few rather physical scenes in A Game of Shadows, how do you stay fit and if you were accosted (like you are repeatedly in the movie), would you be able to defend yourself?

  I have to be very careful what I say because this would be used against me if I ever got in an altercation, so I probably shouldn't say anything.  I feel very confident in my abilities. Nonetheless, I started martial arts instruction for the film. As to my physical regimen, 70 per cent of what I do is just to maintain my mental health while I'm doing everything else – it's definitely helpful.  Also interfacing with Guy being a martial artist, gave us a bit of a shorthand when we're talking about some of the action in the movie and all that stuff but if you're asking if I believe I could defend myself,  I could take all comers. I shouldn't have said that. 

You did Chaplin and Holmes twice. Why do you think you're attracted to British characters?

There was actually a third one, this film Restoration about 15 years ago with Mike Hoffman, but I had Chaplin and that came and went. I am just glad I can do an accent or it would be really embarrassing.

Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers, Iron Man 3. Will we ever see you in a small independent movie?

I want to do all kinds of stuff. There was was time when I would do whatever I was cast to do. Whatever I wanted to do wasn't an option because I couldn't get a job. Now, I got a bunch of jobs I am now required to do and I'm happy to continue doing. Sherlock probably foremost among them because it's just so much fun and so challenging, and it's something that I can do probably for a few more years as opposed to the superhero type thing. But most of this is leading to the types of films I wind up making with the missus.

It's an exciting time for you, three movies in the can, and now a baby on the way.

I've never been happier and I'm still kind of miserable but it's getting better. I am just so lucky, and the luckiest thing that ever happened to me was this person I met (his wife and producer Susan Levin) and then the fact that our combined DNA is about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public – is fantastic and I expect great things.

When is the baby due?

Yeah, late-February and it will not be a pleasant ride home if I say anything else. I really can't. I can't spill the beans. It's killing me. I know so many things that I could tell you that I just mustn't. (Susan was sitting in the back of the room during this interview, enjoying Robert's jibes as only an adoring wife could. By the way, the couple is expecting a baby boy.)

Music plays a big role in the film. What's on your play list?

I would say lots of Steely Dan. I would also admit to a fair amount of Cheap Trick and Super Tramp. Of course, Led Zeppelin is a staple of one's existence, and I have been in my mid to latish 40's now rediscovering The Beatles.

Any new year's resolutions?

What's left to give up? Chastity? No. What kind of resolution would be good? I don't know. I guess I can get a little moody once in a while but how do you resolve not to do that anymore? Let's see, do you want me to give something else up?

What was your last year's resolution?

The last resolution? But they never work. You mean, what was the last solemn oath I made that I promptly broke (laughs). You know, probably the usual.

Does acting still mean the same to you?

Well, what it means to me is that I am given credit for something I don't actually understand and I am not embarrassed at all about that, and I certainly don't have any impossible complexes about it, but all I know is  I was put in a position to have enough experience doing it so that by the time I became all right at it, I still don't really honestly understand it. which to me is great.

It's like a good relationship. Take my wife, I don't know what the heck's going on inside her head. I think it's magnificent, and I'm in love with her and stuff. but I don't understand acting any more than I think men understand women. She could be hanging out and then she'll run into some other pregnant girl, and they go into like a huddle like they play on the same team, like they're on the Stealers or something – there's all these mystical things that women do and are capable of -- and I kind of feel the same way about acting.

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