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Join Johnny in an adventure of being a hero

31 Mar

 

Rango poster

“Johnny Depp is Rango.” The publicity line both on the poster and in the teaser is strong enough to draw some attention to Nickelodeon Movies’ new animated work.

Rango (voice by Johnny Depp) is a chameleon that always wants to be a hero, but lives in a glass box as a pet. One day he is accidentally sent to a town called “Dirt” in the middle of the desert. There he finds love with Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher). He then starts an adventure to be a hero through a battle for water. It is actually not different from any American superhero movie. In the massive hopelessness, the public needs something to believe in; it is the result of hope that helps them live on.

Johnny Depp still keeps his Captain Jack element, even through voice – a bit cynical, weird, unsettling.

The backdrop of the Wild West also gives this movie some more nostalgic indulgence. Hans Zimmer has hidden his strong electronic style but presented a largely Latin American score, which fits perfectly with the smooth animation.

Gore Verbinski inserts the story into a tale told by four owl musicians, which makes the movie run like a bedtime story for kids. The scene of Rango’s dream quite resembles one from the third piece of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, where Jack Sparrow is actually “at world’s end.”

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Chinese new year made special

3 Feb

In China, the Spring Festival bears special meaning for Chinese people. This is the time, once a year, when people need to get together with their families without any excuses.

For people who can go back home, they will find any plausible way that can make them home, despite the situation in the pre-festival traveling, which needs a strong body and highly determined mind.

For those who cannot, celebrations of any means should also take place. It usually include sitting together with whatever people you can find that bear the same cultural capital. The conception of gathering is important.

Chinese students in another countries are the latter. Although for a trivially few of them going back to China is still feasible in spite of the high traveling expense. Most of them are thousands of miles away from their families in such a crucial point of the year.

But the spirit of the Spring Festival shall never be lost.

An imagined community

When people are put in a different cultural environment, culture shock is almost deemed to be shared.

People in this sense will tend to look for signs that maintains their bonds with the homelands.

The more people feel that shock, the more hard they struggle to find those familiar cultural signs.

Globalisation has enabled/forced people to scatter in the world while following the same universal calendar.

Therefore when a certain festival is around the corner, people in places other than their mother lands will suffer the pain even more.

But the bonds, to bigger or lesser extents, can always be maintained. Certain cultural elements still help people to be together with their families – in a virtual way.

A imagined community, according to Benedict Anderson, will be generated when people share the same identity.

Media, can sometimes function as the channel that delivers elements of the same identity.

The Spring Festival Gala (chunjie wanhui) which happens on the evening of 30th December of the nular calendar, helps to build the imagined community for Chinese people.

Usually a Spring Festival Gala will include following elements that makes up the jigsaw of Chinese culture: a lot of red decorations, festive songs, well-known stars, talkshows with mainstream topics.

The gala, which is although disliked by the younger generation, is still capable of connecting people’s minds via presenting elements that are shared by differents individuals with the same cultural identity.

A Review of The Phantom of the Opera The Musical*

3 Jan

London has been haunted by the same ghost for 24 years. The ghost brings about love, hatred, mystery, memory and murder, together with an extravaganza for eyes and ears. It is a ghost of opera.

Inner decorations of Her Majesty's Theatre

The London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera

just celebrated its 10,000th performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 23 October.

It puts a spell on spectators and drives them addicted, making itself easily stand out from other musical feasts in the West End.

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, the musical tells a story of a “phantom” (John Owen-Jones), who lives secretly at the Paris Opera House and teaches the chorus girl Christine Daaé (Sofia Escobar) to sing.  The “phantom” falls in love with his student and becomes jealous after discovering Christine’s secret engagement with Raoul (Will Barrat). The two love enemies go into a collision.

The story itself contains almost every factor that a good love story should have, but its charm can be found beyond just story.

Gillian Lynne’s staging design and choreography can easily re-define the senses of luxury and exquisite. Her talent is fully displayed in the second-to-none piece “Masquerade”, where a huge staircase winds from the floor to the air, creating a 3-D stage for massive characters to show off. A mysterious milieu is delicately woven with a glimmering surface.

The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber is another brand of this glamorous musical. It very successfully combines emotions with the story. Single pieces from the musical have also become hits. Even days after the performance, you can still be obsessed with the melody of famous songs such as “Think of Me”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You”.

It can be easily put together with other works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Although it is not as deep as Cats psychologically, not as related to the reality as Evita, it is still worth recommending to people who are passionate about love stories and good music.

The London production of The Phantom of the Opera is now on show at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4QL. Tickets from £20. For more information, please visit the official website: http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/london/.

*This is a work I did for the Portfolio, an assignment for the MA Journaism (International) course at the University of Westminster

Lost in Venice: The Tourist

15 Dec
The Tourist trailor

It is hard to believe one single movie can include two of the most charming human beings on this planet. ‘s The Tourist (2010) did it by presenting Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp together.

But beautiful faces are not equivalent to a good movie.

The effect of superstars

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp are arguably the two most successful Hollywood movie stars. Separately, each of their name can almost guarantee enough eyeballs.

Not to mention that this time they are put together in the same movie.

Once again, Jolie’s dangerous beauty is fully showed by her character set as an woman agent, which makes people easily remember her performance in Tomb Raider and Salt.

Her stunning beauty is woven with elegance, which is reflected by luxury hotels, shining jewelleries and most importantly, her smile, combining mystery and contempt.

Johnny Depp, who plays as an American tourist (Frank Tupelo) to Venice in this movie, finally shows his elegant side.

But his wickedness can still remind you of the famous Captain Jack Sparrow.

Both of the two stars maintain their performing legacy from their previous movies. Audiences who are familiar with their previous characters can have a certain degree of control, as the two stars do not go very far from images that make them famous.

Angelina and Johnny the tour guides

The story mainly takes place in Venice, although Paris and London are also mentioned by clearly are put at less important positions.

The story almost turns into a publicity material when Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie) arrives in Venice.

A lot of panoramas are used to predict the view of Venice.

Together with romantic music, the luxury hotel (Hotel Danieli) is displayed as a must-go place for lovers (with enough money).

Publicity scenes are so obvious that they may even lift audiences up from the tension in the movie.

Jolie almost becomes a tour guide in Venice as the camera follows her throughout the city and she talks some nonsense that is not even helpful to push the plot.

Scenes depicting the romantic complex between Elisa (Jolie) and Frank (Depp) has literally made me sleepy even on the not-so-comfortable seat in the cinema.

Thanks to the two stars, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the director, may enjoy a different type of success.

This one may be a hit for box office, but may never reach as high as the Oscar winning The Lives of Others (2006).

It is a must-see movie for fans of Jolie and Depp or both of them, but it is a disappointing movie for those who expect more on the director and on the story.

My rating of this movie: 5.0/10
IMDB rating: 6.0/10

 

 

 

Student demonstration: Violin and violence

25 Nov

It is not carnival. This was the impression in my mind when I came back from the student protest on education cuts. Although it is supposed to be one, with violin.

Yet it did look like a carnival when everything was still peaceful and quite well organised. It could have been a regular demonstration, without violence.

The students demonstration in London yesterday turned to be violent in the end despite the carnival atmosphere engendered at its early stage.

Old man, violin…and students, slogans

Students shout their slogans while Ed Emery plays his tone at the back

When I spotted Ed yesterday, he was playing his violin, smiling and stepping the ground  by the pace of his tone. It was outside the Birkbeck College on the Malet Street.

It was also the place where students involved in the protest were supposed to gather. Soon there were a lot of students warming up themselves for the demonstration, by shouting their slogans.

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” They shout. This is just one of those provocative slogans that students have composed to let off their angry against the government’s plan to rise the tuition fee of home students and to cut the budget for higher education.

Simple and easy, loud and noisy. Students even brought them with loudspeakers to amplify their already burning rage.

Just besides the ready-to-erupt volcano made by students, Ed Emery, the PhD student at SOAS was enjoying another type of sound at the corner of a stairway besides the entrance of a modern looked building.

“I am 65 years old now.” Ed later told me, on his way leaving the spot where students were standing a few minutes ago.

“It all comes together”

If you are a person that loves to see contradictions, this scene contains so many contradictory factors that may nail your eyesight.

Massive students, most of whom are in their 20s and even younger, uses their endless vigor to burst the angry atmosphere as well as the decibel.

"It all comes together"

On the other hand, Ed the 65-year-old person with gray hair and wrinkle, stands alone holding a violin and playing happily.

The sound generated by students  sometimes overwhelmed that from Ed’s strings, but the old man was far from upset about that.

“I play my tone while students are  shouting their tone,” Ed paused and said by raising his voice a little to let me hear, “It all comes together.”

Being a local person from London, Ed is now in his first year of PhD at SOAS, majoring in Arabic and Jewish medieval music.

“I support the students. I want to help them to prevent the government from destroying the university.” Ed told me his stance on the education cuts issue and the reason why he chose the very spot.

Until then I realized that technically he himself was a student as well. Apart from factors such as his identity as a Londoner and his music-related major, he was actually supporting his own group in a celebrating way.

Indeed Ed was standing alone, but he was not lonely. The carnivalesque air was heated up jointly by the students – they were upset due to the cuts but they intended to have some fun as well.

Reminder of the New Year Parade

Like the vogue on New Year Parade

If the story ends here, it will be a fair portrait of a big and nice party where everyone is enjoying their moments and delivering the emotions. Yet it may interest journalists less, even it is truly vogue.

Except for slogans, the demonstration at the early age resembled the New Year Parade quite a lot, with people dressing up, smiling, playing drums and enjoying the music.

"Edward Scissorhands"

It is carnival, it is moving vogue, even only for that specific day.

How often can you see Edward Scissorhands on the street? The curly and a bit messy hairstyle, the pale face, the scarlet lips, the neat shirt, and of course, the scissorhands. If you came yesterday, the famous movie character was right besides you.

From vogue to rogue

When you are in rage and want to find some place to let your inner steam off, you will always try to find an adversary, and that is also where things always go rogue.

The carnivalesque exterior started to fade away when students were blocked by the police at Whitehall, near the parliament building.

The tension rose quickly at the confronting line of students and the police, as the police intended to halt the massive student wave yet students wanted to march on. Both verbal and physical contacts were detectable.

At the front line of police-student confrontation

Students attacked an abandoned police van (and some say it was abandoned deliberately) and tried to swing and turn it down. Later a face-veiled person jumped onto the van, making him the focus of many pictures taken by the media.

Two bus shelters in that area was destroyed with glasses smashed.  It was difficult for you to ignore the fear from inside for violence when you were just ten metres away from one of the bus shelters.

Students standing on the damaged bus shelter

Fireworks and colour smokes were set on by demonstrators, which were only hints that reminded me of the festive stage of this demonstration earlier.

With people jumping onto the van, sitting on the top of the two damaged bus shelters, helicopters roaring in the sky and police setting up a cordon, it was really like a battle field.

Seeing violence prevailing, I really missed Ed’s serene smiles, and his violin.

But I am not sure about the true face of this demonstration – the violin or the violence. Or maybe they are just two sides of the same coin.

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Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland Preview in Motion Picture

20 Nov

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is now ready to please visitors to London from every corner of the world.

Let my motion pictures take you to the scene and feel the scream and joy in winter.

Hyde Park Ready for Winter Fantasy

19 Nov

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Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is set to cheer visitors from both home and abroad with special Christmas atmosphere.

The annual carnival in the famous royal park holds its public preview today from 4 pm to 10 pm, unveiling this year’s 45-day celebration of Christmas and New Year.

Christmas Features

The Winter Wonderland, which will officially start on 20 November, decides to make Christmas as its main selling point.

The organiser tries to deliver an atmosphere of Christmas featured by festive music and ubiquitous figures of Santa Claus and reindeers.

A special “Santa Land” has also been set up to prioritize Christmas in people’s minds for the coming winter.

Within the “Santa Land” a “Santa’s Grotto” is well prepared to remind people of the warmth in winter with a set scene of home with Christmas tree glitering, and of course, a Father Christmas welcoming.

Kate, who works as assistant at the pay-for-picture “Santa’s Grotto” said: “People like to come here because they want to keep the memory of Santa.”

“It is a special memory of Christmas for kids.” She added.

Happiness in the time of austerity

The Angel’s Christmas Market is another feature to pay attention for this year’s Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Main Entrance of Winter Wonderland, near Hyde Park Conner station

A dazzling variety of products are for sale at the market, from crafts to foods.

However, sellers seem to be optimistic with detectable caution because of the current economic depression.

“I hope this year will be alright,” said Susan, who works at the market for a company specialised in leather products, “People maybe don’t want to buy things because of the recession.”

“This is my fourth year here,” She added with hope, “This year the market has a new organiser, so it is supposed to be good.”

This year’s Winter Wonderland also includes attractions such as London’s largest open-air ice rink and a 53-metre-tall observation wheel.

The Winter Wonderland will officially set off tomorrow on 20 November 2010 and blow the closing whistle on 4 January 2011.

Oops, I’ve chosen the Gaga course

3 Nov

We won’t wait very long to hear students in the University of South Carolina to say so, as the university has launched a course about Lady Gaga and her fame, according to the BBC.

Bound to sell

This is a course that is bound to attract interests. There is no doubt about a pop star being the most prominent selling point. Just like news, celebs always sell. In this voyeuristic society, people feel satisfied to see what happens to stars. On one hand people need someone to worship, on the other hand they need to unveil their star to know everything about him/her.

The second eyeball attractor is the rare combination of celebs and academia. Whenever these two elements go together, it is quirky and therefore newsworthy. Pop culture stands for consumerism. People tend to consume and forget. The only unchangeable trend is change. Sociology is far more rational. It analyzes, it deconstructs and sometimes it bores.

It reminds me of the American TV series called The Big Bang Theory, where several scientists are presented as hilarious figures. It is another way of combine pop culture and academia, and it works. More importantly, it sells.

A living course

Now sociologists want to sit down and look into some popular figure and her fame. Research used to lag behind what actually happens in the real world. But not for this course. One of the most interesting part of this course is that it is living.

Let me introduce the name of the course: Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame. According to the BBC, course leader Prof. Mathieu Deflem initially intended to call this course “Sociology of Fame” or “The Sociology of Celebrity”. My favourite part is, the subject of this course is alive and so is her career. The content of the course may go together with her career. Ups and downs can be perfect cases for sociology, and people who are involved in this course never know what will happen to their subject in the future. The course breathes with the subject.

 

 

My 2nd and The Phantom’s 9,999th

23 Oct

You will need many reasons to see a musical, but you need even more to see it twice. You may like the story, bursting into tears when the Phantom screams “Christine”; you may fancy the music, letting the master composer Andrew Lloyd Webber bring you the sound of Muses. Or it can be really simple, you just love it.

1.

Two years ago when I was an exchange student at the University of Nottingham, going to London is a huge project. Only when it was Christmas vacation could it be possible for me to take a first glance at the world’s famous capital (if you count in the curious look that I took up from the plane as the first, then this is the second).It indeed was a huge project as it really needed some intelligence to include the whole London into a 5-day trip.

I did not realize that it was a mission impossible until me and my friends were lost in mountains of information. There were just too  many to look, too many to experience. But there would still be the trip. Taking an expensive train from the centre of England to London and doing nothing will be noting but being stupid. Finally we made some hard decisions and ticked off some shiny options.

But fortunately I persuaded my friends to see The Phantom of the Opera with me. That was a correct decision.

2.

It was the the music that made me fall in love with The Phantom of the Opera. First it’s the song Think of Me, which almost grabbed my heart at the first second. The deep passion and the soft voice resonate with me every time I listened to it. Then it’s Angel of Music, All I Ask of You and soon I reached “the point of no return”.

By then I was still in the first year of my Undergraduate, allowing myself swallowed by books for the degree. The Phantom of the Opera were also rarely put on stage in China. Therefore to see the musical seemed to be to far for me then. The love became a burden.

The dream seemed to be closer when I was qualified to be an exchange student to the UK.

3.

So I traveled across the whole continent to the UK. Nottingham was a city that’s good enough for me, at least you had everything you wanted in terms of survival in a foreign country. There was also a theatre at the city centre, but sadly The Phantom could hardly come. London seemed to be the only home to him. So the distance remained an obstacle.But at least I could see the figure of him, although through a heavy frost.

Finally, finally, I could hear The Phantom calling when Christmas came. That  would mean more spare time and a trip to the Capital.

It could have been a really banal trip. Hot tourist spots like the tower bridge were visited by thousands of tourists everyday. But not everyone could be so lucky to see a dream musical. So I decided to make the trip delux by adding The Phantom of the Opera into the list of must-do in London.

4.

I could even hardly remember how I walked out of the theatre and took my way back to the hostel after I saw the musical the first time. All that I could recall was that songs were kept playing on and on.

We gave a standing over to the actors and actresses. I was amazed by their professional performance. Everything seemed so accurate and natural.

I almost cried when I heard Think of Me by my bare ear. My dream finally came true.

5.

Two years after that, I am now a journalism student at University of Westminster in London. Now I am AT the Capital. Days are still busy for me as the course pushes me towards a good journalist. Not so many travels to the central London are planned. But one thing was decided even before I visited the UK again. I must see The Phantom of the Opera again.

6.

Today it is the 9,999th time that The Phantom of the Opera is performed in London. It is also my 2nd time sitting in Her Majesty’s Theatre.

This time I spared my attention to different angles of this musical. Since I’ve participated in dramas in the Undergraduate and once even as a director, I tried to look the stage as a whole. How does the stage set? How do actors spread out when there is  a lot of them on the stage? What are other people doing when leading roles are speaking and singing? It turns out to be an interesting observation from a different angle.

What’s the same is that I am deeply moved by the story and almost cry when Think of Me is performed by Christine.

7.

Will my third attendance take place? I have no idea myself. How many reasons do I need for that to happen?

Chandelier covered by cloth. Picture copyright held by the blogger.

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