The London 2012 Olympic Ceremony

The greatest sporting event created by man (who else?) is in London. Right now. After years and years of planning, construction, and politicians grappling with annoyed transport workers and miserable cohorts of the British public, the capital of England (and perhaps of the world) is now home to the summer Olympics. I’m immensely excited about everything that’s going on in my hometown, even if at the time of writing my country has only got one medal. And a couple of days ago we were treated to a spectacular piece of television that was not quite enough to rival the ambitious antics of the Chinese four years earlier, but certainly something that would make us feel proud – the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, directed by none other than Danny Boyle.

The Opening Ceremony at the London Olympic Park

I was in Cornwall when it actually happened but managed to watch a recording the next day (which nonetheless allowed me to skip past the LONG parade of participating countries). It certainly seemed to be unlike any opening ceremony that came before it. Although it didn’t quite have the ‘massed choreography of the entire chinese army‘ (Charlie Higson, Twitter) it was a bold, beautiful, and supremely funny show that prompted a positive global reaction. It began by showing an intriguing part of our history, when the industrial revolution ruined the kind of small rural village ideals glimpsed in the first few minutes. Huge towers not unlike those in Ikea in Croydon rose up from the floor as smoke billowed above the stadium, and a sideburned Kenneth Branagh grinned and recited some Shakespeare (who could have expected that?). The drummers in their thousands pounded loudly and men in top hats and suits danced and saluted the new industry – it was an intense and fantastic opening, but it was only going to get better.

The Industrial Revolution

The next thing we knew, Daniel Craig was riding in a London Taxi to Buckingham Palace, getting out and ascending a carpeted staircase. As he went into an ornately fashioned room, he cleared his throat and Queen Elizabeth II, 85 years old, turned round instantly. ‘Good evening, Mr. Bond’, she declared, before following him out of the room and into a helicopter. Off they rode to the Olympic stadium, and then they jumped out, parachutes decorated with the Union Jack, while the James Bond theme blared throughout the stadium. Obviously the Queen didn’t actually do that, but the fact that she was game enough to star in the pre-made film proved this to be one of the greatest parts of the evening, and as I was catapulted back to my youth, largely spent watching James Bond films, a broad smile extended across my face. It was one of those moments which highlighted London’s Opening Ceremony as a very different one, one that wouldn’t take itself as seriously as those preceding it, which is what made it truly special.

The rest of the evening was filled with spectacles that were undoubtedly British. The NHS was celebrated with real doctors and nurses dancing to a toe-tapping beat, while children’s literature was also heralded as one of Britain’s great strengths, with J.K. Rowling reading a passage from J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan‘, as a large puppet-like Voldemort loomed over the audience. The forging of the 5 rings was a brilliant throwback to J.R.R. Tolkien, and the performance of none other than Mr. Bean during the Chariots of Fire scene left me nearly suffocated with laughter. One of the best parts for me was the montage of British music, throughout the ages. Music is so important in Boyle’s films, especially Trainspotting, and no expense was spared here – I loved spotting the Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones and Kinks songs that were played in the fast-moving celebration of our music culture. It was all so individual, so personal, so proud and so moving, and Paul McCartney’s performance of Hey Jude did NOT ruin the entire evening – 1. He’s 70 and 2. He’s a Beatle. Stop complaining, all of you.

Mr. Bean aids in the theme to ‘Chariots of Fire’ – dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun

Anticipation continued to mount after the countries had finished parading – who was going to light the Olympic cauldron? We saw David Beckham, that national hero who did so much to bring the Olympics to London, carrying it in a boat along the Thames… promptly it was passed on to Sir Steve Redgrave, who brought it into the stadium. Then, we were greeted with one of the greatest surprises of the night – several up-and-coming athletes, only notified of what they were doing a week before, carrying the torch each in around the stadium. It showed that Britain was committed to carrying its next generation on its shoulders and was a very touching, warm moment as these seven young people lit the ‘flame of unity’.

The seven promising athletes wait to be given the flame by Sir Steve Redgrave.
The Flame of Unity is lit.

So if there’s one thing (or in fact, several) that could be taken from the night, it was this: that Britain has a very proud sense of humour and is not afraid to display it. It also showed the dramatic idiosyncrasies of the UK in general, with self-referential gags and a healthy sense of the absurd carried throughout. We may not quite have reached the heights of China four years ago, but do we really need to? Danny Boyle has crafted an intelligent, visually stunning show that has broken records in terms of Olympic viewership in both Britain and the USA, and acted as a brilliant leeway into all the events that are happening over the next two weeks. The only things I have left to say are, ‘Go Team GB!’, and ‘Danny Boyle for a knighthood?’

 

Leicester Square is finally a square again!

In the past few weeks I’ve been under the plague of an unstoppable force that extends across the breadth of the United Kingdom. That force is… EXAMS! That’s right, I’ve been sailing/storming/stalling through my GCSEs which will explain the lack of recent material on here. I’m working on it. Soon for the pleasure of your eyes you will be able to read about my exploits at an Indiana Jones marathon, perhaps indulge in my idea of a ‘classic movie’ (I haven’t done one of those in ages) or anything else which I see fit to post.

What I’m going to talk about now, however, is that place in London known as Leicester Square, home to about a thousand different cinemas and a pleasant, though small, greenery area. Well, that’s what it was like, until some educated chaps decided to board up the entire place for maintenance, turning what was previously known as a ‘square’ into an awkwardly-shaped cigarette smoke-laden mosh pit, forcing distributors to hold their premieres elsewhere (which nonetheless resulted in a truly memorable sight of Trafalgar Square populated by obsessed hormonal teenagers for the final Harry Potter). Having only discovered the Empire’s gargantuan Screen 1 and the cult delight of the Prince Charles Cinema relatively recently, I have more memories of being caught up in a cramped myriad of tourists, businessmen and cinemagoers than the original square itself. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that when I heard Leicester Square was re-opening this weekend, I hiked over as soon as I could.

Well, sort of a square.

Did my frenzied excitement pay off? Well, to an extent, yes. It was nice to be able to breathe for once whilst in the area and the trees looked very nice. But to my mind the construction workers that had halted movement for months didn’t really seem to, well… do much. There was the added addition of several vertical jet fountains which lapped around noisily, and a distracting tent feature, but were they necessary? Everyone who walked through the square seemed to do so without the slightest inkling that anything had occurred. Perhaps it’s my fractured memories of the old square fading ‘like tears in rain’ – rocking the Blade Runner reference there – but there seemed to be no developments which were really needed beforehand.

Yay. Fountains.

Never mind. I did enjoy some of the events that were going on, despite the fact that barely anyone was there. The renowned stuntman Vic Armstrong gave a very entertaining interview, talking about his escapades in doubling for Bond, Indiana Jones, Superman and countless other film characters. After that, two Empire Magazine reviewers, Ian Nathan and Ian Freer, gave a fascinating insight into their jobs in ‘Life of a Film Critic’, which included their hilarious revelation of “the better the sandwiches at a press screening, the worse the film”, as well as a trailer for the upcoming Hobbit movie. You can tell why that would appeal to me…

Vic Armstrong – one of the greatest stuntmen of all time.
Ian Nathan and Ian Freer

So, yes, it was a fun and dehydrating experience overall, and thankfully the London tube trains weren’t too exhaustive. I’ll be back in Leicester Square in a couple of weeks for the Indy Marathon (which thankfully excludes the fourth film) at the Prince Charles Cinema. In conclusion I have to say that despite my reservations with some of the developments it is truly fantastic for the square to be back, and I look forward to basking in its warmth in the years of cinemagoing to come.

No more barriers!

P.S. I have a new camera. Click on the images, they grow so much larger, it’s incredible…

Slava’s Snowshow

It’s not often that I would consider reviewing a piece of theatre. I love plays, art shows and certain musicals but the fact is that going out to see one of these where I live is far too expensive; indeed, ticket prices of £40-50 are now commonplace among London’s many theatres. However, it is also not often that I have been so captivated by a show as I was with Slava Polunin’s exquisite Snowshow, a spectacle on a grand scale which has kept me coming back again and again whenever he returns to the English capital.

Slava's Snowshow

Slava Polunin was born in Russia and has been a clown for many years, though not in the conventional sense. Taking inspiration from classic mime Marcel Marceau as well as the silent-film legends of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, Slava views clowning as an art form, and an extensively beautiful one at that. Slava’s Snowshow, which has been running since 1993, is something special indeed, a tour-de-force of ideas and expression, a dazzling spectacle of colour and ingenuity, a humorous ode to the great visualists of the 20th century. It runs for barely an hour and a half yet is sure to bring even the most cynical of theatre-goers back to their childhood, a limitless world of imagination. 

Slava's Snowstorm

Slava walks onto the stage when the show commences, looking for somewhere to hang himself. He pulls the rope leading offstage, which turns out to be rather long. As the audience explode into fits of laughter Slava discovers that at the other end of the is a younger clown in the same clothing. A gang of other clowns soon make their way onto the stage, their green costumes complete with ridiculously long shoes and very wide hats. The show barely pauses for breath from that moment on, not even in the intermission, during which the clowns climb on the backs of the seats, spraying water and shovelling fake snow on the audience. There’s barely any speech, but the sheer brilliance of the visual staging and hilarity ensures its global appeal. 

Slava's Clowns

I’ve seen it three times and I still think it’s absolutely wonderful. The depth of the audience participation, genius of the show itself and grandiose special effects make it one of the most unique things you will ever experience. Go and see Slava. He may not return for a few years, but go and see him. And like me, you’ll almost certainly be back for more.

The incredible post-show finale

P.S. do you like my new banner?

The Entertainment Media Show, October 2011

It's a queue of nerds!

Attending the Entertainment Media Show in Earls Court, London last saturday was an impulsive decision to vastly upgrade my nerd status. I didn’t regret it. Guests signing autographs and posing for photos included Arthur Darvill, Caitlin Blackwood, David Prowse, Edward Furlong, Evanna Lynch, Eve Myles and John Hurt, while there were an immense number of stalls selling all manner of strange collectibles. Up I got at 7.00am (my friend and I had bought early-entry tickets for 9.00am)  and ventured down to Kensington. I immediately got a numbered ticket for Edward Furlong as I wanted his signature and wandered aimlessly around the vast rows of stalls, which sold anything from original film posters to screen-used shield props to rare DVDs to actual samurai swords, while someone dressed as Bill Paxton bumped into me and I almost trod on Kenny Baker.

Er...

I stayed mostly wordless as Edward Furlong  signed my picture, mostly due to fear of meeting someone famous, but also because he looked generally ominous. He was nice enough, however, and alongside a badass signature still retained that slightly whiny Californian accent, albeit broken, that had annoyed so many in the extended cut of Terminator 2. I was delighted to have finally met him.

My friend offered to take pictures of me with anyone who I thought fit, and as there were quite a few in costume, I took up his offer. I actually ended meeting another celebrity, the “Entertainer-nator” who, despite his limited vocal ability, managed to get to the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. “How strange”, I thought, as he complimented my t-shirt in a rather artificial yet hilarious Austrian accent.

The Entertainer-nator

The next thing I knew, Picard rolled along with two Vulcans. The seemingly enemy aliens seemed to be in a surprisingly colloquial situation with the Enterprise Captain.

Picard and two Vulcans

The next picture was taken directly after the thing hissed loudly causing a violent reaction on my part followed by a pathetic effort to retain dignity. You can see the fear on my face.

Alien

Darth Vader then force-choked me and held me in suspension for ten seconds while somebody else took the photo. Strangely enough, he released me afterwards and said “you’re welcome” when I thanked him for the photo.

Darth Vader

I also got an autograph from a man named Paul Blake who just happened to have played Greedo in the original Star Wars. Since he had no queue and was dressed in a more dignified fashion I felt more inclined to speak to him at greater length. He shared my enthusiasm for the famous scene and mentioned that it was shot on a boiling hot friday afternoon in perhaps fifteen minutes at either Elstree or Pinewood (he couldn’t remember which). He also strangely enough complimented my shirt and said that my signed picture could take “pride of place on my mantlepiece”. Which it has done.

There were also plenty of free talks to wander into which brought together all the actors from the same show/films as well as a few individual talks. There were about three Ewoks, an R2-D2 and Darth Vader sitting in the Star Wars talk who all somehow had a strange anecdote each about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eve Myles made everyone burst into laughter at several points in her talk and Evanna lynch showed William Melling how to do her undeniably idiosyncratic dance from the first installment of the Deathly Hallows which was somewhat amusing yet quite strange. Lynch retained the same voice her character speaks in in the Harry Potter series, which added to the strangeness.

I'm not trying that...

The whole thing was an entirely new experience for me and was so vibrant and exciting that it has caused me to write this post with such speed that I am scarcely aware of what I am going to churn out next. I will, however, end by saying that when leaving Earls Court I was feeling smug as I had managed to steal part of the wrapper for Edward Furlong’s sandwich that he had bought on the day. I expect it will fetch around £3,750 on eBay, especially considering it consists of tuna mayonnaise with cucumber. A worthy find and an excellent end to an awesome day.

Tuna Mayo, eh?