Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Travel articles: Belfast, Las Vegas, Corinthia Hotel, Osea Island


Las Vegas:

Osea Island:

Corinthia Hotel:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sorry but M&M World isn't right for London.

Firstly let me tell you that M&M World in London is not a world, it is a shop. What I mean by this is that despite the occasional character meet and the large plastic, dressed M&M’s dotted around the store, there is nothing to do except buy. I can only describe it as like a shop you get in a theme park, except you haven’t been on any ride. So as I walked around the primary coloured shop in Leicester Square yesterday all I could think was that it was totally wrong for London. Sure it had a large union jack logo, a large London bus for people to sit on and London-themed stands to have photos with but it still felt American, even the music played was Bruno Mars, Rihanna and the like.

Its only ‘wow’ moment is the actual chocolate itself, as it should be, which is displayed in large tubes of each colour around an entire wall. This is where I’m completely sucked in by the personal touch as M&Ms can be bagged however you want with any colour you want. It’s also great as a gimmick for a work do; wedding or birthday as I believe you can also get words printed on them.

However this wasn’t enough to sway me, particularly when I reached the bottom level to see people queuing alongside a red rope to pose with four M&Ms on a recreation of Abbey Road. It just sunk in either further that M&Ms are American and no matter how British it wants to be, it’ll never quite ‘fit in’. Still, with the amount of yellow bags I saw in Leicester Square once I walked out it seems Londoners and tourists completely adore the place. Cadbury, make your move. But don't try too hard.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Take That: Boyband to manband; tween fan to 'grown-up'

I was only eight when Robbie left Take That but I remember seeing the news on television and I remember that he went a bit mad and died his hair blonde. In the run up to seeing Take That on Saturday I must admit I'd forgotten he'd rejoined - obviously I knew he had but it hadn't really sunk that he'd be there, on stage. Therefore for many girls in their tweens when the fabulous five first became four, Take That's three act-style format to its Progress Tour is perfect. Starting as a four-piece we were able to admire the comeback with what have been some of TT's best work with stadium-pleasers Rule the World, Patience and Shine. It was note perfect and simply brilliant, you cannot fault it.

Having not read reviews previously (it ruins, or heightens expectation) I wasn't ready for a Robbie solo slot. I would've paid for a ticket for this five song section alone. There have been several times I've sat watching Knebworth and the like and wanted to be singing back in those enormous crowds. Angels, Let Me Entertain You and Feel hold special memories for many and for TT to recognise the lyrics, melody and sentiment behind those songs stands to represent the quality of music they produce. Plus it got Robbie's ego out of the way for the group stuff.

From then on the show felt like one long reunion party, the recently released new-age material mixing in well with songs I'd grown up with and made up dance routines to. The audience knew when to sing, TT knew what to say and the set design moved or stayed appropriately for each song. It was a shame a previous malfunction stopped the band from performing on the robot. But then with songs and voices like theirs, TT doesn't need a spectacle. I doubt Gary Barlow found that in his X Factor auditions the next day either.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Did Patagonia make me want to go on holiday? Sort of...

Maybe I'm just naive to how the film industry really works. Or it was down to the fact that I was a guest of a destination marketing firm. Whatever the reason, I found myself watching Patagonia on Wednesday thinking 'do I want to go to Patagonia?’

Before I get into that let me say that the film is a true beaut. Likeable characters, a few familiar faces, the right amount of humour, stunning cinemaphotography, a soundtrack to die for. Patagonia tells two stories of the connection between the Chile/Argentina region and Wales, following two different 'couples' in their journeys across each country. It's sentimental and traditional, in its native tongues and certainly showcases a beautiful landscape.

The film is also keen to show the similarities between the two locations. So much so that things started to become predictable and it began to feel like I'm watching an advert. Even Matio the Welsh guide in Patagonia, played by Matthew Rhys from Brothers and Sisters, says that 'lots of Welsh people come here for holidays'. Of course my cynicism hasn't been helped by the fact that I've seen at least three tour operators try to promote the destination. Patagonia that is, not Wales. At least travel companies are waking up to the screen tourism possibilities.

So what type of 'holiday' did the film portray? Well certainly one that is 'off the beaten track' (does that actually exist?), surrounded by barren desert with limited transport. It oozed the sense of a journey or discovery, the type of destination you'd go to 'find yourself'. To bring this back to a lauguage Brits would understand, Patagonian locals were shown to like their beer and there are sheep in the farms. Very Welsh. Likewise Cardiff and Buenos Aires were shown not too dissimilar to each other, both wild but friendly.

Therefore I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to visit Patagonia or not when I stepped back out of the cinema. Why should I travel all that way (on a product placed Aerolineas Argentineas flight), when I could be in a similar environment in three hours down the road?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Usher in the fun, not sleaze

Usher’s tour stop at the O2 last week showed just how a male ego can get in the way of performance. Opening the show with an album track, the smooth man unexpectedly rose from the sound booth at the back of the venue on a platform – which would have worked much better if non-hardcore fans knew the song. He tentatively floated across the audience to the stage throughout the song, and then followed it with another album track. Hmm. Finally at song three he belted out in 2004 hit ‘Yeah!’ (yes, 2004) and the crowd erupted into party mode.

However the party was short-lived, as the next 45 minutes were filled with uninspiring, slow album songs surrounded by the concert-standard barely dressed dancers and only one crowd-pleaser ‘Love in this club’. The title of said song reflects the overtly sexual nature of Usher himself, who was certainly entertaining the ladies. Sure, the man has some amazing moves, a good body and a voice that can make you melt but arrogance will make things awkward.

Three ripped shirts later Mr Raymond decided to search the audience for a lady to sing to. Seeming as I was up on the O2’s fourth level it was obvious that I would be chosen, so instead the rest of us had to wait for what felt like 10 minutes while Usher walked to and fro to pick a shawty. Then the girl he eventually ‘picked’ was so obviously a plant I couldn’t help think I was wasting my time, plus their gyrating was so much that it borderlined pornography.
NO-ONE clapped after that song.

Either unaffected or oblivious by this, Usher returned to his platform an hour after he started on it to sing ‘Burn’. With no lady to distract him it seemed he had finally turned his attention to his audience and in return, we sang back whole-heartedly. What followed was a different show to the sleazy first half. A medley of ‘My Boo’, ‘Pop Ya Collar’, ‘U Remind Me’ and ‘You Make Me Wanna’ reminded us of party Usher and the brilliant ‘Caught Up’ in full got the whole place jumping.
So like that bad boy we know we shouldn’t like, Usher had redeemed himself from a try-hard crooner to world-class performer in two songs. His professionalism and showmanship was how I’d always thought a younger Michael Jackson would have been, with the dance moves and smooth tunes to go with it. He ended on a triple whammy of ‘More’, ‘DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love’ and ‘OMG’ to the delight of the party-hungry fans.

So while a smooth talker may always appear to have the ladies in the palm of his hands, it’s more than likely that he actually comes across as too sexual. Loosen up and the response will follow. Although the fit body, dancing and voice certainly help.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Ahead of the Brits: trying to decifer an obsession.

Since a young age I've had a slight obsession with the Union Jack. It's got to the point where my room is painted like one and people buy me Union Jack-emblazoned items purely because of the pattern. For the record, I don't like everything with the flag on it and, particularly when it comes to clothing, I still have a 'style' that I'd stick to. Anyway, here is my room in all its kitsche glory.

I've been trying to figure out what it is that I like about UJ so much. Perhaps the romantic in me likes the way it symbols unity on this island (I know, I know, that's not the case now) and I am certainly proud of where I come from. In addition as a graphic design student I grew to appreciate the flag's shapes, colour and arrangement - it's only 'flaw' that Wales is not represented. I'm not pedantic enough to insist the flag is its right way up but I love that there is a correct way.

Despite that, the colours shouldn't be messed with. Rip it up; use red, white and blue patterned fabric; burn holes in it - I don't care so long as it remains in those three bold colours. Although it says something that a flag can be changed so dramatically and yet still be recognised.

Despite my love for the Jack, there is something about it that makes me cautious to wear it with pride (usually in the form of the five bags I have), particularly in a work situation or on holiday. For one I don't really want to stick out in those situations and secondly, it can appear too bold, kitsche, possibly even intimidating.

This was epitomised in Geri Halliwell's dress on the Brits 1997.

I've watched the awards religiously since I was small and as my passion for music grew, I saw that the awards showed the best of the British. Some of the most iconic moments in our popular culture have come from those awards shows - even as recent as Cheryl Cole's 'I'm-living-without-Ashley' performance last year. Okay, slight bad example, but even now when I see it I think 'yeah, go girl!'. In addition, growing up in the whole Britpop era was bound to have had an influence. It sure did on the next PM.

Actually now I've mentioned the the Spice Girls I've realised they may have had more to do with this than I thought. When Wanabee was released I was eight years old and getting heavily into popular music. These bolshy, unashamed women used the Union Jack as a symbol of confidence. This clicked in my mind last week when I ended up watching Spiceworld: The Movie(don't ask) and noticed that the flag was EVERYWHERE.

So there you go, it seems the Union Jack, despite its male name, has become synonomous with my girl power. Now I have to hope that shops calm down their Union Jack covered homeware before I get a flat, otherwise my place will be covered in the stuff.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Disney goes back to its roots

Quite what drew my mother and I to see Tangled this afternoon I'm unsure of, since I haven't seen a Disney film (and I mean proper Disney on its own) since The Emperor's New Groove in 2000. We're also hardly in Disney's target market at the ages of 22 and...late 40s.

So whether it was the dazzling golden hair or simply an excuse to get out of the house; we sat surrounded by eight year old girls, a few reluctant brothers and their parents after paying just under £22 to see the 3D picture.

What followed was a surprise. Disney had gone back to its roots with a fresh, sharper cut. Tangled had vivid colours, a damsel in distress, cute sidekicks and a predictable but enjoyable storyline; all tried and tested formulas in the House of Mouse. There were also songs, appearing randomly as they would in a musical or pre-2000 Disney movie. Although none were memorable, they added that Disney sparkle.

Then our heroine, Rapunzel, appeared as imperfect, slightly unsure of herself and a bit neurotic. Just how half the female population is every day. I was fascinated by how resourceful her hair was, her determination and the struggle with her mother, who was in fact the evil old lady who locked her away. The whole 'my mum won't let me do this' theme throughout the film would apply to girls of all ages and is highlighted by the brilliant 'Mother Knows Best' song sequence which nearly convinced me that indeed, she does. But then Rapunzel had the guts to get out anyway and she used the man who 'rescued' her, rather than simply jump in his arms. He's also a thief and she's a princess...cheeky little minx.

Nevertheless, Tangled's falling in love momentis just as cute and romantic as Eric and Ariel in those reeds or Aladdin and Jasmine on the carpet.

Now we need a heroine who doesn't fall in love, gets let down by the guy but gets through everything on her own just fine. I'm thinking that may be too forward thinking for Disney. Best stick to fantasising on heroes and romeos.