Friday, 11 April 2014

A View from the Bridge

Arthur Miller’s classic American play is back in Britain

In 1950s Brooklyn, longshoreman Eddie Carbone lives with wife Beatrice and her sister’s orphaned daughter Catherine to whom he has become a surrogate father that she looks up to. However the arrival of two illegal Italian immigrants to live in the house creates a tension when one of them starts romancing Catherine awakening feelings in Eddie that he won’t even admit to himself. He grows to resent the relationship but cannot really express that frustration properly. This version of the play, currently touring the UK has a cast who acquit themselves well yet there is a sense that the work itself no longer carries the same resonance especially here.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Top of the Pops 1979 - 29.3.79

Shown on BBC4
Review by Chris Arnsby

Mike Read. "It's Thursday. It's gripping. It's exciting. It's the latest episode of... Top of the Pops."
Chart music: Chic, I Want Your Love [6].

Racey: Some Girls [34]. The scenery is all back. There must have been a dispute at the BBC last week. Also back is Racey although this song isn't anywhere near as much fun as Lay Your Love on Me. Four members of Legs & Co invade the stage during the instrumental to dance with Racey's lead singer. It's not clear if Legs & Co represent the girls who do, or don't.
Racey: They all had bad back problems on this day.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Madness - Take It Or Leave It

Originally released 1981
Directed  by Dave Robinson

The origins of one of the 1980s best British groups- as played by Madness themselves.

You suspect that the formation and initial career of well- known groups is never as melodramatic as even the most down to earth biopic or documentary will suggest but in 1981 Madness took part in a film of their origins which somehow manages to understate matters. By the time Take It or Leave It was filmed they already had several memorable hit singles and were on their way to becoming one of the early 1980s’ most successful British pop groups but none of this features in the film. Instead they attempt to re-create the band’s formation and early days four or five years earlier using actual locations and themselves rather than anything like sets or actors. The results are best described as authentic.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Top of the Pops 1979 - 15.3.79

Shown on BBC4 
Review: Chris Arnsby
Peter Powell. "Turn the volume up! Turn the music up! Because it's Top of the Pops with the chart run down and Players Association!"
Chart music: The Players Association, Turn The Music Up [25]

The Jam: Strange Town [30]. Top of the Pops has a new look presumably courtesy of Roger Cann (he's credited with design); he also worked on the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden, and Eastenders, Kenny Everett, and an episode of Bergerac called The Deadly Virus which sounds exciting. The Jam perform in front of a black background and pulsing green lights. It looks ace and just as you think it can't get better the vision mixer makes the screen go negative and everything turns white and purple.

The Jam are not very impressed with the strange town

Monday, 31 March 2014

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?"

Friday, 28 March 2014

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

Sunday, 23 March 2014

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