The Musketeers final two episodes of season 1

Episodes 9 and 10 of the first season of the BBC’s take on the Alexander Dumas classic.

In a way all the odds have been against The Musketeers from the presence of a recent unsuccessful film adaptation to its bizarre 9pm Sunday night timeslot plus the fact that the actor playing its primary antagonist will be indisposed for a second season. Typically the finale then has to go head to head with ITV’s returning Endeavour. Yet the series has, if not triumphed, then certainly thrived strongly with a growing sense that it has developed far faster than other comparable shows such as Merlin or Robin Hood. Perhaps the later timeslot has allowed The Musketeers a little more freedom to push some boundaries and rely on a darker sensibility though it has never quire justified the scheduling. Despite stellar ratings for the opening episode almost halving as the run progressed and a mixed critical reaction nobody can surely argue with the fact that the series has found its sense of direction. Though some of the plots are a little wobbly the whole package is fast, fun and feisty. Unlike some other series The Musketeers is never still long enough to be dull, it is always enlivened by excellent set pieces and the standard of acting is consistently high with, crucially, no weak links amongst the regulars. Though occasionally the writers seem to struggle to come up with believable plots where they do score highly is in characters that make an impact sometimes in a relatively short amount of screen time. Particularly pleasing aspects include far more proactive female characters than we might expect, villains that really mean business and a sense of place, however fictional that place may actually be. Put it on at 7.30pm on a Saturday and you’d have an even bigger hit.
"You're stuck aren't you?"


Captain America The Winter Soldier

In cinemas now
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson. Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford
Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

The first Captain America film stood out from its Marvel contemporaries by virtue of its period setting which imbued it with a different tone. Now this follow up distances itself from the many other superhero movies around by matching impressive action sequences with a contemporary political edge.  Even more so than the Iron Man films which certainly acknowledge the real world, The Winter Soldier is a political thriller of some heft for this genre managing to address an issue that sits at the heart of US foreign policy; pre-emptive intervention against perceived threats.
Warning- Major plot spoilers in the rest of this review


Breaking Bad Season Four

First shown 2011
Created by Vince Gilligan
Starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul

A while back there was a car advert in which all the separate components of the vehicle had been extracted and laid out as a work of art. Watching Breaking Bad- especially this fourth season -reminded me of that advert because everything slots into place so perfectly.  It is a master class in how to write an ongoing TV drama that is rich with character and in which each storyline fits together with the others, not always instantly but eventually. There isn’t an centimetre of waste in these 13 episodes, every single scene fits necessarily into the larger picture so any review can only scratch the surface of what is going on. There are people who have tried the show and given up; the shortest time I heard was someone turning off half way through the very first episode! Others have reached seasons 3 or 4 and found the whole thing too heavy. There is, they say, no light and shade in the show, it’s all hate and no love. In one way this might be true yet ultimately it is a series about drugs and guns and cartels while also being one about family and trust and deceit. It’s central premise in case we forget is an ordinary man faced with mortality making some bad choices and finding a thrill to criminal life that he never had in his previous ordinary one.  

Warning - Big Breaking Bad Spoilers past this point


Staying in on Saturday night

Once upon a time I used to go out on Saturday night but at this moment - 8.30pm- I am typing this while listening to last year's Phoenix album and wondering how come I hardly ever go out on Saturday night any more? Well I suppose the answer to that is that Saturday night in town is full of loud younger people who seem to have a capacity for alcohol that I no longer have if indeed I ever did. It's sort of easier to stay in isn't it on a Saturday rather than go out. There are six other nights you can go out and I prefer any one of them to Saturday. The last time I went out on Saturday night it was freezing cold but most people were wearing only one layer of clothing; compared to them my four layers and assorted scarves and gloves made me look like some kind of woolly mammoth. We couldn't find anywhere to eat - everywhere seemed to be booked up or we'd be able to have a table "in half an hour or so".  Then when we did find somewhere it was the most peculair restaurant. Decked out like a Greek taverna it was in fact an American resturant according to the sign. Yet the menu was a strange melange of all kinds and when we got our order extra bits had been added as if they just wanted to get rid of them.
So instead of all that this is my chance to catch up on a few episodes of Breaking Bad (I'm on to episode 11 of season 4) and generally not go out. If you're under 25 and reading this you are looking at your future. I once vowed I would never lose touch with the latest music, trends and I would never stay in on a Saturday night but now I know that hasn't turned out to be true. 

Finally in this sponteanous post that I will probably delete tomorrow, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the topics of the moment....
Kate Bush playing live after 35 years- don't do it Kate! The mystery is better and we would prefer to speculate why you're not touring than have you actually tour.
Ukraine- Yikes, why do we pick and choose our moral high ground? Either we let these things slide or we don't? I think the whole thing says far more about us than it does Vlad who, lets face it, has got away with it.
The new pound coin - We want it now! Though I'm not sure it will spin around in the same way the current one does.
Sports Relief- Only Fools fans will take a while to recover. It's why people should never come back unless they can cut it regardless of whether it's for charity or not. Also if you're going to have a YouTube boy band they should at least have a YouTube girl band also.
The price of fish- Well...(cont page 445)


Stuck in a Lift

aka Trapped in an Elevator. It’s a film cliché- but what if it comes true?

We’ve all seen films or tv shows where characters are stuck in a lift and certain assumptions result. When it actually happens though, the results are less dramatic and more mundane as I discovered travelling up to the fifth floor of an office building recently. From the start it seemed to me there was something about the lift that suggested maintenance was not a priority in this building. The doors rattled when they slammed shut, the lift was small enough for more than three people to make it seem crowded and there was a discernible shudder when it moved off from the ground floor. Then, somewhere between the third and fourth floor, it came to a halt.


Top of the Pops 1979 - 9/3/79

Watched on BBC4 by Chris Arnsby

 Kid Jensen. "It's hit music designed with your weekend in mind. Welcome to a specialriday edition of Top of the Pops."
Chart music: Herbie Hancock, You Bet Your Love [19]

Inner Circle: Everything Is Great [46]. Not an early slightly less enthusiastic version of Everything Is Awesome from The Lego Movie. During the "everything is great" line of the chorus there's a weird squelchy electronic effect at the back of the mix which reminds me of the processing added to the voice of the actor playing Saymon in the Blakes 7 episode The Web. Proof positive that Inner Circle were fans of late 1970s BBC science fiction.

 Elvis Costello: Oliver's Army [2]. Top of the Pops is playing around with video effects again. There's an electronic mix into this repeat performance from the 8/2/79 edition which looks like a vault door sliding open. Inner Circle had the last few minutes of their performance covered in what looked like howlaround but was probably some sort of Quantel trail effect. This edition of Top of the Pops was moved to Friday because A Song For Europe was broadcast on Thursday 8th March. Presumably that move has put Top of the Pops in a different studio, one fitted with cutting edge technology.
Elvis Costello is not pleased with his blueberry drink. He probably doesn't want to go to Chelsea either.


The Musketeers - The Challenge

BBC1 16/03/14
Written by Susie Conklin / Directed by Farren Blackburn

A contest taking place between the Musketeers and the Red Guards becomes personal for D’Artagnan.

Ah, tournaments and challenges. Sooner or later every historical based drama gets round to this plot so credit writer Susie Conklin with putting an  interesting spin on the story by tying it in with D'Artagnan’s ambition to become a fully-fledged Musketeer. In an amusing display of childish showing off the King and Cardinal end up agreeing to a tournament in which a champion from each of their respective militia will battle it out to decide which is the best. This is after a brawl breaks out over which group should transport Labarge, a corrupt superintendent to gaol. As Labarge is played by Vinnie Jones all parties are lucky not to have injuries in more private places!
"Don't run away, I'm a pussy cat really"


The Grand Budapest Hotel

At cinemas now.
Written by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness / Directed by Wes Anderson

The central plot of Wes Anderson’s latest is fairly simple when you see it written down. When a regular guest at the hotel of the title dies soon after predicting her own demise, she leaves a very valuable painting to the hotel’s smooth concierge Gustave something her family are displeased with in the extreme. In the hands of other writers or directors you could imagine such a tale being enjoyable enough but moulded by Wes Anderson it becomes a daringly visual celebration of cinematic techniques and storytelling. Not content to offer a straightforward narrative, Anderson unveils several layers and different perspectives. His trademark love of narration, gliding camera moves (no wobblecam for Wes!) and the way his characters can be marvellously deadpan all make their mark. It’s too soon to say if it’s his best film yet- as some are- but it is certainly his most entertainingly ambitious.


Top of the Pops 1979 - 1.3.79

  Watched by Chris Arnsby on BBC4

Mike Read. "Hello and welcome to the musical action on this week's Top of the Pops. Let's take a ride up the charts with Cars."
Chart music: The Cars, Just What I Needed [29].

The Skids: Into The Valley [20]. Fred White, Lighting, tries something different at the start of this performance. He's got some big white lights (maybe those Super Troupers Abba kept going on about) mounted on the floor at the side and back of the stage. A camera fitted with a star filter pans round the stage and the light shines directly into the camera lens. As an effect it doesn't quite work because white light also needs to be poured on from the front to counter the back light and this makes the set look flat and dull.
The Skids: The guy at the back wonders what is making his bandmates so miserable


The Musketeers - The Exiles, A Rebellious Woman

02/03/14: The Exiles: Written by Ben Harris / Directed by Andy Hay
09/03/14: A Rebellious Woman; Written by James Payne / Directed by Richard Clar

“I love it when a plan comes together” says D’Artagnan at one point during `The Exiles` and he could be summing up the feelings of the production team after completing two excellent stories.  Having explored some back story of each of the Musketeers episodes 6 and 7 expand the series into wider territory so while there may be a little less swashbuckling (especially in the seventh) but there is more depth and intrigue. The Musketeers feels as if it is forging its own identity now, cutting loose from other adaptations yet retaining the key elements. The close to hour long episodes never drag while the hitherto less than inspired dialogue gets quite a polish and starts to become far more involving. 
"You're standing on my foot"


The irresistible rise of the selfie

We love new names for things so in recent years taking a photo of yourself which used to be called `taking a photo of yourself `has become known as a `selfie`. These pictures started in earnest when cameras were included in smartphones whereas before you had to go to the trouble of buying a digital camera. Now we all carry one with us so the temptation to snap ourselves has become irresistible. Once upon a time photos of ourselves used to be for posterity, to remember significant moments in our lives and people generally only took them at a particular occasion. Weddings and christenings are obvious examples as well as things like gigs, parties and public events. As a result most older people have wallets of photos lurking in a cupboard somewhere; these are almost always posed and look a bit awkward. In previous decades it had to be this way because there was a commonly held belief that you could only photograph your family if they stood still, otherwise there would be blurry indistinct results. 


Top of the Pops 1979 - 15.2.79

Watched by Chris Arnsby on BBC4

Peter Powell. "Hi everyone! And welcome to the musical world of Top of the Pops! And what better way to start the show than with the chart run down! Here's the Bee Gees and their new smash hit, Tragedy!"
Chart music: Bee Gees, Tragedy [7].

The Dooleys, Honey I'm Lost [54]. The bouncy synthesiser riff keeps reminding me of The King Of Rock And Roll by Prefab Sprout. Apart from that... well, last year I said The Dooleys sounded dated even for 1978. You can imagine how this sounds one year later. The Dooleys are the Coelacanths of Top of the Pops.

Generation X, King Rocker [11]. A repeat for the New Romantic look performance of 2/2/79.

Lene Lovich suddenly realises what she is wearing