Review of 2009

December 31, 2009

Among other things blogged about this year, like being breathalyzed for the first time, decorating my bathroom, getting an app-phone (here, here & here), using dropbox, a guest-blog, etc.   I have…

Gone to see this lot in concert…

Gone to these Movies…

Watched these boxed sets…

and, read these books….

Happy New Year!

The West Wing – completed

October 4, 2009

I’ve watched all seven seasons of The West Wing in around eight weeks.  Not particularly deliberately, I tended to watch a disk at a time (4 episodes) and a few times much more but not necessarily every night or even going out of my way to watch it.  The program is simply and brilliantly addictive.

From just about the pilot episode they got it right.  The casting, set, acting, production, camera work and above all the writing is amazing. The pace and sheer amount of plot in each episode makes it compelling to watch – the trademark “walk & talk” shots particularly involving Josh, Sam or Donna are always fun and speaking of fun there is so much slapstick humour woven into a show – which somehow works along side very serious subjects.

I am really glad that I didn’t discover this TV gem while it was being broadcast however, for the simple reason that the end of each season is such a clifhanger that I really enjoyed being able to play the opening of the next straight away.

However, in my humble opinion, the show goes downhill around seasons 6 and 7.  These shows are still very compelling television but for some reason by then there are no more jokes, a lot of the action is no longer in The West Wing but out on the campaign trail and the cast are scattered all over the place.  It is still very enjoyable but not in the same league as the earlier seasons.

Anyway, if you are like I was a few months ago and people keep going on and on about how good The West Wing is and you can’t see what could possibly be that good about what is after all just a TV show.  Trust me – it is worth getting hold of, it is worth watching and you will get something out of it (even if that is just a vague idea of how US Politics might work).

PS, can I get seasons 1 and 2 back some time I want to start again.

continued West Wing adventures

September 28, 2009

As I mentioned before, for a number of years I have ignored many friends who have said how good The West Wing was.  Not because I haven’t believed them I simply didn’t care too much about getting into another show that without starting at the beginning and who really cares about american politics anyway…

However, now only eight weeks after buying the boxed set on somewhat of a whim I am with some trepidation about to start the seventh and final season. I have tried to take my time – and failed.  I have watched 3 or 4 episodes in a row (one evening 9 episodes – my excuse being I stumbled into the ongoing story about Zoe that bridged two seasons and you just can’t walk away from that plot).  Now I start this season knowing that it will be the last, no more West Wing.

Should I pace myself – one episode a week was enough for most people as it was aired – or just splurge through the entire season in one sitting?

I’ve already tried to put of the inevitable by going back to watch bits of season 3 but it doesn’t really make sense to review without completing.

So here goes The West Wing Season 7….

BTW 12:30 on a Sunday evening doesn’t seem a good time to start but I’m not tired so stuff common sense.

West Wing Season Two

August 17, 2009

This is nuts.

I hammered through season one from this box in 7 days.  I decided that wasn’t a good pace so should slow down, so I’ve just managed to finish season two of The West Wing in 10 days.  The problem, apart from my lack of self control is that I can’t watch one episode I watch one disk which is usually four, hour long, episodes.

So my thoughts on Season Two?  I’m not sure.  It is all really very, very good – tightly written, tightly performed, tightly filmed and tightly edited but that has all been said before.  There are a few small niggles such as why some characters seem to simply disappear never to be mentioned again, but overall it is simply very good, gripping drama.

Having just watched the season finale I am trying hard to resist simply breaking open the next box.  It was so ‘edge of the seat’ that I rewound (OK that term doesn’t really make sense for a DVD, but there we go) to watch the last 20min or so over again.

My aim now is not to start Season Three for at least a week, and from then on only to watch one episode in one sitting.  I’m not sure how realistic a goal that will be.  I am still following The Wire on BBC2 three nights a week and I can always fall back on Firefly boxed set to keep me busy.  All of this is fairly unusual for me though as I don’t tend to follow TV shows that much and those three are all American dramas.  The world may be upside down – certainly I think I’m turning nocturnal but that is a different matter.

West Wing Season One

August 8, 2009

I’ve had a few nights of little sleep and somehow managed to get through all 22 episodes of Season One of the West Wing in under a week!  This wasn’t deliberate, I thought the boxed set would last me a lot longer than this and hopefully it still will.  But I thought I would give some thoughts on this initial exposure to the West Wing phenomenon.

  1. it’s good.
  2. it’s amazingly tight.
  3. a little claustrophobic.
  4. they walk about a lot.


West Wing obviously has high production values (and cost) which make a difference right from the start.  The set looks like a real working office with the right amount of mess, extras in the background, things changing from day to day, etc.  The lighting and camera work is great – especially the walking about a lot stedycam stuff.

One of the things that I had heard about in praise of the West Wing was how good the writing is and it really is.  There is just the right balance of quirky one liners, complex jargon and straight plot moving to keep you interested.  The technique of having the characters walk about a lot is a good way of fitting in dialog and making it dynamic and interesting.  This also shows how good the actors are as some of these shots are fairly extended and require not only tight scripting but physical timing as well to get to the right place by the time your lines run out.

On the down side – I have no idea what a lot of the characters are actually supposed to be doing in the White House, there isn’t any explanation of their roles or even the hierarchy.  There is no back story to the characters, who they are, how they know each other, what their motivations are (although I’ve started season 2 and some of this is expanded in the first couple of episodes).  But that in itself is interesting because as a viewer you are introduced to a group of people with a group dynamic rather than a bunch of individuals with their individual stories.

So far so good, and it must be gripping because I just keep putting on the next episode as soon as one stops.  I really must slow down.

New to the West Wing

August 1, 2009

westwingI picked up the boxed set of “The West Wing” yesterday for £50 – which seemed a bargain for around 112 hours of viewing.

I have never seen a single episode of this show but lots of friends who I know and trust (and Jodi) have all watched it, become adicted, raved about it, watched it again, swapped stories about it, etc.

So here I go on a new adventure.


July 4, 2009

Well Murray is out of this year’s Wimbledon, however lots of questions remain…

ball boys / ball girls – surely teenagers displaying this level of discipline is a lesson to us all.  They stand at attention for long periods of time or crouching at the side of the net ready to spring into action.  During the breaks they run to their other duties ready to serve the players on court and in the mean time seem to play a subtle game of “who’s got the ball” by rolling balls to each other while the players are distracted.

As an experiment in community involvement it would be nice to see some teenagers at the other scale of social acceptability serving as ball boys – say as part of community service.  Stick a hoodie on each corner of the court!  Admittedly the games may take longer due to the attitude of the “yoofs” not wanting to do as they are told.  The ball would keep hitting them as they wouldn’t be able to see what is coming because of the hood (and trying not to make eye contact) and they couldn’t run very much as their jeans would be hanging around their knees.  Ball boys and Ball girls are, after all, there to add some entertainment to the normal activities:


(view video here )

Another thing that puzzles me about Wimbledon is, what is it with the towels?  The players seem to need to wipe their faces after each serve, or after strolling the length of the court.  OK, don’t get me wrong, this tennis thing doesn’t look easy and I’m sure it is a good workout but there has to be a limit – there isn’t enough liquid in the human body for the amount of toweling that these guys do and the poor slaves (ball boys/girls) are forced to run to them with the sweaty towel then walk backwards in a sign of humility as a cursory wipe of the face is made then the towel thrown back at the slave.  Down with this sort of thing.


Lastly, what’s with all the armed forces?  There always seems to be a sailor or uniform of some kind standing around the center court.  They never seem to be highly decorated officers just enlisted men.  Is there some Victorian tradition that requires the representation of military at all Center Court matches or is there a need for a military presence that I can’t figure out.  They are often seen when the TV coverage cuts to the score board so perhaps it is something to do with the security of the scoring system?


Eurovision Production Blog

April 24, 2009

Last year I started to follow the famous Dave Rat blog – the sound engineer touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was an interesting look into concert sound production as well as backstage, event management, a fantastic travelogue of roadies on tour and a very good read.  Hoggie has now pointed me to this similar blog from (I think) the production manager for the Eurovision Song Contest.


I’ve only read the first 12 days or so of this but I really like it.  I’m the kind of person who sees things on TV or goes to live shows and tries to figure out how they make things work and what it looks like behind the scenes.  Now with blogs like this we can get a peek.


There is an element of tech geek talk, but mostly (so far) it is just about introducing the people involved and showing some of the equipment, planning, troubleshooting, etc. that is needed to put on a show of the scale of Eurovision.  The contest itself will take place between 14-16th May (three nights of live shows all televised to a worldwide audience) the setup (and this blog) began on March 31st.  So there isn’t too much catching up to do, and if you follow it from here on I’m sure the show will have a whole new dimension.

This year’s Eurovision will come from Mosco, which is why I like this photo of “four different red beets salads” from Catering.


The Wire

April 1, 2009

The Wire started on BBC this week.  It is one of the most critically acclaimed US television series, it doesn’t easily fit into a traditional ‘genre’ and so (like Firefly that I posted about recently) is hard to describe exactly what is so good, different and ground breaking about this program.

the-wire-postersEach season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of the city of Baltimore. They are, in order: the drug trade, the port, the city government & bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media.  It is gritty and realistic (at least as far as I know, I’ve never been to Baltimore) but it is a series, not a collection of episodes.  There is no neat solution to each hour long formula (CSI, Without a Trace, etc.), characters and story lines develop gradually over the course of season which gives the viewer time to get into it.

But it is hard to get into!  It is gritty and not for the faint-hearted.   There is violence, drugs and not only strong language but the makers of The Wire made the unusual choice of leaving in lots of street-talk and local slang which makes it hard to follow (I’ve found it better with subtitles on). One other little problem is that though it is good to see this on BBC, it is buried in a late night BBC2 slot and a new episode each night meaning you will struggle to keep up.

So, why bother?

It is good, there are 5 seasons – 60 episodes and I’ve only watched about 6 of the first season and I want to know how life turns out for these guys.  Is there any hope in the projects, will the cops get anywhere, what is the wider picture in the city?   It’s well written, well made and captivating but I think I’ll end up switching back to the DVDs as soon as I end up missing an episode on BBC.

Best stories in the ‘verse

March 8, 2009

I was recentlyswitched onto and quickly worked through every episode of the excellent sifi series Firefly (and the spin off movie Serenity ).  This is one of those series that I think I’ve come across when flicking through cable channels but it looks too strange to settle on and invest any time to, and I can see why it failed and was canceled during its first season.

fireflyIt is just too good. There is too much going on, too many characters and too much detail.  So with so many channels to choose from, flicking through channels and seeing all these people and details it instantly looks like something that will take a lot of effort to understand.  But it really is worth that little effort if you start from the beginning!

It is written, created and produced by Joss Whedon who at the time was the big hit in US TV with his other creation Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and isn’t your typical sifi / space travel type of story we are used to…

  • it is set in a future (2517) where humans have simply spread out from earth, there aren’t any aliens (it took me ages to notice this)
  • the people on the furthest outreaches of this ‘civilisation’ are like wild west pioneers and there is a lot of wester genre in this
  • everyone can speak english or mandarine Chinese (as america and china were the last great superpowers when the Earth united – or something like that).  This has the great advantage that when characters swear it is in Chinese which sounds realistic but doesn’t have to get beeped out.
  • there are nine main characters (10 if you include the ship Serenity) this is a lot of cross relationships to get used to which is why dipping into the series isn’t great
  • most of the filming is done on hand held camera leaving in all the little framing errors which give a raw edge that you don’t usually see in this genre
  • this ‘hand held’ camera look is carried over into the CG when we see zoom-pans into a space ships at a distance, again ‘camera’ work you just don’t see anywhere in regular sifi
  • action in space, including explosions are done without sound – as space is a vacume therefore no sound (the only other program I can remember doing this was the old Blake’s 7)
  • it has incredibly funny moments, some very good one-liners, physical and visual comedy!

Zoe “Cap’n’ll have a plan… always does. ”
Kaylee “That’s good right?”
Zoe “It’s possible you’re not recalling some of the cap’n’s previous plans…”

Jayne: “Testing, testing. Captain, can you hear me?”
Mal: “I’m standing right here.”
Jayne: “You’re coming through good and loud.”

Mal: ” ‘Cause I’m standing right here.”

Mal: “If anyone gets nosy, just…you know… shoot ’em. ”
Zoe: “Shoot ’em?”
Mal: “Politely.”

So, the concept is unusual, unexpected and fantastic.  The characters are very well drawn and a great cast brings them to life.  This looks like a big budget series with excellent sets and location pieces.  It is a great shame that the plug was pulled as there is so much more depth in this series which never got explained.  The movie (which apparantly only happened due to the pressure and fundraising of fans) does tidy up a lot of questions which the series leaves us with, but it is the characters who are so good that you just want to see more of what they go through.  You can pick up this boxed set fairly cheap and it is really worth it!

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