Category Archives: Entertainment

Eurovision 2016

imageIt’s that time of year again. The night of the biggest entertainment show in the world with an estimated 200 million global audience, which this year will air live in the USA for the first time. China will tune in again for the 2nd year running. Tonight the final 26 of the 43 original entrants will battle it out to win the Eurovision Song Contest. This time last year I was in Vienna to experience my very first event live and what a great experience that was and I would have been in Stockholm tonight if I’d thought to book earlier before things got ridiculously expensive. So what to expect of tonight’s show? Well, be prepared for a seismic change.

There has been a HUGE change to the voting system. The votes each year are the result of the combination of the expert 5-person Juries of all the competing countries and the public televote but we never usually know how the juries voted versus the public. This year we will. The voting will be announced in the usual way after all songs have been performed but only the jury results will be announced. At the end of this process we will appear to have a winner. AHA! Then comes the sting in the tail. The public votes will be amalgamated so all the votes across Europe and Australia for, say, the U.K. will be added together and so on and then finally the public amalgamated vote for every finalist will be revealed meaning the public vote may well undo the rankings of the jury vote and we won’t know the true winner until the end of the show. Confused? Me too TBH.

OK, so before I reveal my Top 10 picks for tonight – and I’ve got to say this has been the hardest year ever to do that because the standard is so high, a word about the real star of what you will see: the stage. Sweden will provide one of the most hi-tec stage settings ever and the artists who make best use of it will do very well and two will in particular. OK, so on to my picks.

Cyprus

imageHeavy rock is not my thing at all and this was not on my radar until I saw their performance in the semi-finals. 5 man band Minus One will rock the stage tonight with a song called ‘Alter Ego’. It’s a dark, heavy performance but delivered with such driving confidence that you can’t help but pay attention, even if this isn’t your thing. Guaranteed to get top marks from Greece, of course, but don’t bet on others not scoring this highly too.

The Netherlands

imageIn complete contrast to the Cypriot rockers, the Dutch have gone for Country & Western with a song called ‘Slow Down’ sung by Douwe Bob and his band who, refreshingly, will all play instruments when they perform. I liked this from the very first hearing and was embedded in my Top 10 even before both semi finals when the bookies and pundits made it a 100/1 rank outsider. A stunning semi final performance reversed those odds and now this is tipped as a dark horse destined to do well and I would agree. It’s a toe-tapper, happy feel song with a refreshing message for our manic lives: “you gotta slow down brother, slow down brother, slow down if you can’t go on…”. This is the only song of its genre tonight and for that reason will stand out from the crowd.

Israel

imageUnlike the Dutch entry, this one was not on my radar at all and I was pretty dismissive of it as were most pundits…until the Stockholm rehearsals where singer Hovi Star quite literally brought the Globe Arena to a complete, awestruck standstill. This guy has one of the best voices in the contest and clearly has the respect of many of his competitors who are wishing this song well. The song is called “Made of Stars” and follows in the traditional ‘power ballad’ style that has done so well at Eurovision over the years.

Sweden

imageThe host nation and six times winners were a reluctant last in my top 10, narrowly beating Hungary, which will do very well. Why did it make my top 10 then? Well…it’s Sweden and you can never underestimate them. Don’t be fooled by the fact they are the only Nordic country to make the final because the fact they are means the other 4 Nordics only have one Nordic to concentrate their votes on and that’s potentially 48 points in the bag before he’s sung a note. That said, it’s a pleasant song and a completely different genre which I’m not hip enough to categorise. Sung by Frans, the youngest competitor in the contest who has a British Nigerian father and Swedish mother – and when you hear him he could be from any corner of London. This will not give Sweden their 7th win to equal Ireland’s record but could well make the top 10. Oh…sorry. Almost forgot. The song’s called ‘Sorry’. Sorry.

Austria

imageAs with Israel, I dismissed this one on first hearing but it’s proved to be as much a grower as it is a shower, so to speak. This is one of two entries that maximizes on the technical brilliance of the stage tonight. This is a feel good song called ‘Loin d’ici’ or ‘Far from here’. It’s the first time Austria has presented its entry in French. It’s also one of only 3 non English language entries this year and the first time ever a song sung entirely in French has qualified from the semis. Apart from being a memorable performance as it is, Zoe will take to the stage 3rd from last and will be the entry immediately preceding the UK. If for nothing else, you will remember her as that girl and the flowers come voting. You’ll see what I mean.

Italy

imageI went with Italy as my first choice last year and they ended up 3rd. I don’t think this one will do as well but it’s another I liked on first hearing. The Italians are passionate about Eurovision and were the inspiration behind its creation with the original format based on the San Remo Song Festival, which still takes place today and from which this year’s entrant, Francesca Michielin, was selected. She will sing in her native Italian, bar one chorus in English. The song is called ‘Nessun grado di separazione’ or ‘No degree of separation’. I’ve heard her sing this ‘unplugged’ with just her singing and playing the piano and if only she’d gone down that route tonight I’d put money on her winning. This one polled well with the 43 international Eurovision fan clubs pre the contest and that’s a strong indicator of how well or not a song is likely to do.

Spainimage

The choice of this song caused a national outcry in Spain and reached the no.1 global trend spot on Twitter because for the first time ever Spain will perform their entry entirely in English. It’s a funky dance number called ‘Say yay yay yay’ or I guess ‘Decir si si si’ en Español, so I guess she made the right choice in defying national fury and insisting she will sing in English. This is the best shot Spain has had in winning for decades and singer Barei will deliver it with high energy and a quirky dance that has itself already gone viral across the globe.

Australiaimage

After what was supposed to be a one-off last year, Australia are back again now they have secured permanent affiliated status with European Broadcasting Union. There is still a host of moaners around mocking their participation but this year’s singer, South Korean born Dami Im, will certainly shut mouths. This is a stunning entry performed by a singer with an amazing voice. Prepare for the roof to be blown off. Ironically, the song is called ‘Sound of Silence’. It’s another ‘power ballad’ and this may well see the Aussies improve on their impressive debuting placing of 5th last year.

Russia

imageOK, this is the one to watch out for. You will never have seen a performance like this ever in the history of Eurovision. It makes full use of the technical brilliance of the stage and reviewers in even our own sceptical national press have described this entry as ‘jaw dropping’. The strength of the entry is not just based on gimmickry. Singer Sergey Lazarev is a confident performer with a powerful voice and among the best eye candy of the night, whether you are male or female. The song is called ‘You are my only one’ and topping it all – it’s a very good song. Sergey will perform this mostly on his own bar the mysterious appearance and disappearance of 4 male backing singers. Oh…and watch out for the only female cast member and her (literally) two seconds of fame.

France

imageAnd so to my choice for the evening. France have kind of followed in step with Spain to submit their first ever entry in English. Well, half of it but a huge step for a nation that fights passionately to preserve francophone culture. This is a real feel good, happy, toe tappy song delivered with every ounce of Gallic charisma by French-Israeli Amir Hadded. The song is called ‘J’ai cherché’ or ‘I’ve searched for’ and this actually won the combined Eurovision fan club vote topping Russia by a considerable margin. I’d take the results of the fan clubs with considerable pinches of salt given that they base their votes after endless pouring over the entries whereas 99.99% of voters tonight will judge on first impressions and this guy is the master of making a good first impression. I’d be very happy for the show to come from Paris or preferably my favorite French city, Nice, next year.

And finally a word on the UK. Pundits and bookies place Joe and Jake in the top 10 tonight but I just don’t see it. If they make onto the left side of the results board they’d have done good. If we get zero points then just watch that be politicised into the Brexit debate.

Biff! Baff! Boff!

imageMy, my – it’s all been kicking off in Europe recently and this time it has nothing to do with migrants or Brexits. Never in all the time I have been a Eurovision watcher have I known the Continent to be so fractious or there be so much pre-contest controversy.

My British chums will most likely be unaware that it will soon be upon us and will raise eyebrows and head for Lastminute.com in a bid to flee Europe once they realise. Indeed, the UK provides the starting point of my controversy count and you may not realise it but we, the people of these isles, have already chosen our entry. ***listens to the sound of the Tumbleweed***. So miffed were the Euro luvvies at the BBC that the proletariat were being allowed to elect our entry once more that they tucked the song selection night onto BBC4 and a third-rate amateur production worthy of Dave TV followed. Anonymous duo Joe and Jake won and have actually scored a recording contract with Sony, who will no doubt regret their decision soon come June.

There are 43 entries this year and all but 3 have now been selected. There would have been 44 but after competing since the Dawn of Time without ever winning, the Portuguese have decided enough is enough and quit. Either that or their 4 songwriters are all on holiday together. So what else has been going on?

Well, the furore that erupted over the Spanish entry was so explosive it trended globally on Twitter and why? For the first time ever their song will be sung not in Spanish but in English! Hot Tortillas! The Spanish public demanded a reversal of the decision but Barei, the feisty little lass who will sing it, refused and she has seriously endured a tirade of social media abuse since. Her countrymen may yet come to regret their venom as she is hotly tipped to take top spot this year. Meanwhile in Germany, the public outcry over their chosen performer was so vast and vocal that the national broadcaster did reverse their decision and a new representative was put to the public vote. The reason? The former chappie turned out to be a raving right-wing, anti-gay Daily Mail reader with a secret stash of Donald Trump photos in his leather Joy Boy dungeon. So he was axed and a new girl will represent the Fatherland. I predict that will be the zenith of her fame.

Still a lot of whinging from all across Europe that Australia has a been allowed to participate again this year. I reckon much of that could be sheer jealousy of their debut 5th place last year and an entry hotly tipped to do well this year. Oh…and there’s been a fair bit of press and social media sniggering at the choice of this year’s contest slogan: “Come Together”. I’ll just leave that there.

Over in Poland, public rage too and a national petition to change their song and singer has been launched and is rapidly gaining momentum. The Israeli broadcaster is also reported to be considering a massive re-vamp of its entry after domestic ire and just yesterday after a 6-week national search to find the song that will represent the host country, Sweden, a HUGE public outcry at their choice, which will be sung by a young Nigerian-British-Swedish lad called Frans, who could easily hail from East Putney when he speaks. Not a race issue here, but the Swedes felt they had at least 5 other songs in their final that were better. Don’t underestimate Swedish passions where Eurovision is concerned. They are on the verge of taking Ireland’s crown as the most successful country ever but I think Dublin can rest easy for another year. Talking of Ireland, look out for former Westlife band member, Nicky Byrne, singing theirs.

Lastly and slightly more seriously there has been a spat between Russia and Ukraine over the latter’s song called ‘1944’, which is what the late Sir Terry Wogan would have called a ‘maundering little dirge’ about the Soviet expulsion of the Tartars from Crimea in 1944 (see what they did there?). With Russia having again illegally annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in recent years and subjugated the local Tartar population, Russia felt, maybe somewhat justifiably, ‘got at’in a contest that is meant to be non-political ***pause for hysterical laughter*** Russia made an official complaint to the European Broadcasting Union to have the song banned but this was rejected by the EBU and if you listen very closely you may hear the sound of Russian Baltic Fleet being prepared to sail on Stockholm come May.

So like I say, quite some shenanigans already but the best, loudest and worst is yet to come. For the first time since 1975, they are overhauling the voting system and if you do manage to watch it through to the bitter end and think you’ve seen the winner…think again. There’s a nasty sting in the tail this time round but more on that another time.

The Tower – movie review

imageIf, like me, you like action/adventure/disaster movies but are a tad bored with what’s been coming out of Hollywood lately, then maybe try this. This is a South Korean take on Irwin Allen’s 1974 all A-List classic The Towering Inferno (Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Fred Astair, William Holden). It’s in Korean with English subtitles, yet despite that I found this particularly gripping and I am the worst person I know for using the skip forward function on any media player. I never skipped forward once. The movie was released in 2012 and is available now to rent or buy on Google Play (£3 rent and well worth the splash).

If you are a fan of the original film, you will find all the imagekey elements there: dodgy builders and architects, overly ambitious bosses, a VIP party miles high on the top floors, scenic elevators, exploding water tanks, heroic firemen, love interests and tons of fire, explosions and mass panic. This is a deconstructed Apple Pie of a movie. Just as arty chefs nowadays can take a culinary classic and rework and deliver it looking nothing like the original it’s based on yet with all the ingredients in place, that’s The Tower.

imageEssentially this is a disaster and rescue movie based on the original but with echoes of Die Hard 1, The Poseidon Adventure, Speed and 9/11. Instead of one tower in distress here, you have twin towers (geddit?). The special effects from start to finish are stunning, realistic and evidently not cheap. This movie has a big feel to it.

No point me mentioning the cast as unless you are a film buff imageof the freakiest kind. Any readers I may have are very unlikely to have heard of any of them, yet I found the cast and especially the leads completely engaging and thoroughly watchable. The two lead females (one adult and one child) are particularly noteworthy.

imageThere is an attempt at humour in the film, which because I’m not Korean I didn’t really get. The hapless and disaster-prone chef delivers some of these elements (don’t worry…this is not a chip pan drama). The rest is provided by a family of evangelical Christians who pop up now and then like when they are praying for a tsunami to put out the fire while trapped in their penthouse swimming pool unaware that the Firemen are about to blow up the huge water tanks on the floors directly above them. The film appears to be respectful of the characters but could also be interpreted as taking the piss. Why that should be? Well, if you didn’t know South Korea has a huge evangelical Christian population with churches that meet in giant sports stadia that still can’t accommodate all their congregations in one sitting and they may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

If you are going to punt £3 on renting this, just bear with the imageslowish start but that does get you engaged with the central characters in the classic style of all good disaster movies. Self-sacrifice for the good of others is a recurring theme throughout the movie from several characters though interestingly not from the Happy Clappies, which further makes me think they are caricatures who are being gently mocked rather than play a key part in the drama…apart from one of the Firemen, that is.

Yes, I would watch this again. Probably will have to as when I searched for the original Towering Inferno, which is what I was planning to view, it is nowhere to be found among Google Play’s extensive library.

The Tower is rated 15.

Click to view trailer.

Eurovision 2015 – pick of the bunch (Vienna #2)

imageOn location in Vienna to join in the madness that is the usual running of one of the biggest TV shows on Earth – Eurovision. See my previous post as to why I’m here (and it’s not a gay thing either. Rather resent the gay hijack of what was once a fun event). Anyway, this is not a rant post and if you are joining the estimated 195 million watching on TV tonight and have no idea who to look and listen out for, here are my Top 10 picks, though I will say at this point…steel yourselves UK. This is going to be a car crash watch for us. More on that later:

Lithuania

imageThis will get your toes tapping and along with the UK entry is one of the few up-tempo songs this year. There are a lot of male/female duos here (usually a recipe for disaster). Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila belt out this rather happy song called ‘This Time’ and I liked the instant I heard it some months ago. This will be bolstered by the Baltic bloc vote but the country music style will appeal across Scandinavia too.

Cyprus

imageDon’t under-estimate slow, gentle ballads sung by solo males with no fancy dancers and effects. Belgium, Finland and others have done very well with songs like this in recent years. This is very effectively staged and will be one you will remember come voting time. Song is called ‘One thing I should have done’ by a very British-sounding John Karayiannis who will be moving to the UK after the show, that is if David Cameron let’s him in.

Hungary

imageBoggie (yes make sure you pronounce it right) got herself into a little hot water with this entry prior to the show due to a promotional video for the song which was deemed too political and drew official protest from the Israeli Government who felt it was aimed negatively at them. She seems to have appeased everyone now with this attractive and gentle anti-war ballad backed by some very able singers called ‘Wars for Nothing’. Despite the controversy, this one was on my Top 10 list from the start and if popular sentiment rides her way bearing in mind events in Ukraine, she could do well.

Norway

imageAnother male /female duo and another strong contender. Norway once cherished our place for ending up bottom of the pack. The Nordics all tend to take Eurovision very seriously (the Swedes take months to choose theirs in what is their biggest TV show of the year). The Norwegians are giving them a run for their money this year with this song called ‘A Monster Like Me’ which does seem to have a rather sinister ending. Performed by Morland and Debrah Scarlett.

Belgium

imageThis is another that stands out in the crowd for me. Very unusual and hypnotic slow pop ballad sung by a young guy who is the toast of his country at the moment having got through to the final while arch rivals and neighbours The Netherlands failed. Called ‘Rhythm Inside’ and sung by Loic Nottet. I don’t think this will win but it will pick up its fair share of the votes plus he seems to have the pink vote well and truly behind him.

Israel

imageThree times winners Israel have not qualified for the Grand Final for a while and there was much post-contest controversy last year when their entry, which Bookies and the 40 or so voting Eurovision fan clubs (yes they really do exist) all had them as a Top 3 finalist yet the song failed to get through. There are debates about anti-Israel politics in play with the growing global movement to boycott Israel but singer Nadav Guedj seems to have bucked the trend with his dance number ‘Golden Boy’. At only 16 he’s the youngest contestant this year backed by a troupe of boy dancers who bounce around like Jack-in-the-boxes. The song is about the angst of a guy who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend so decides to go out and party and pull another bird. Lots of remorse there then.

Estonia

imageIt’s taken a long time for this one to grow on me and it only just makes my Top 10. The Bookies and fan clubs, however, have this as one of the favourites to win. Called ‘Goodbye to Yesterday’ and sung by another male/female duo. It’s up-tempo and will probably get Nordic support plus they are very much emulating the Dutch entry last year which came runner-up and that may bode well. Performed by Stig Rasta and Elina Born.

Australia

imageWhile all the ‘yah boo sucks’ acrimony rages that the Aussies have been allowed to enter at all (and there is a lot of resentment both here in Vienna from what I can make out and across the fan clubs where the song was blanked by voters) I for one am glad the Aussies are here. After all they deserve a good pasting. Kidding. This is probably the most marketable song in the set and for that reason it probably won’t do as well as some might think. Singer Guy Sebastian is something of an idol down under and won their X-Factor a few years back. He’s also a committed Christian having cut his musical teeth leading worship in one of Australia’s mega churches. It deserves to be in the Final and I hope it does well, though doubt it will win. Song is called ‘Tonight Again’

Sweden

imageEurovision would not be Eurovision without a Swedish entry among the favourites. Finding the best song for the contest is almost a national obsession over there so a lot of weight will be on the shoulders of singer Mans Zelmerlow. That said, he will have a lot of support behind him from the Nordic, female and gay voters as the chap is rather camera-friendly (and he knows it). Nonetheless this is a strong song and my second favourite to win, though I actually anticipate no higher than 5th place in the end. Watch out for a very cleaver stage act. Song called ‘Heroes’.

Italy

imageAnd so to my choice for the night. My mum actually spotted these chaps some years back on YouTube when they were spotty teenagers with amazing voices. They have grown up into the smarmy Italian stereotype quite well and still with amazing voices. They are Il Volo and they do ‘pop opera’ This got my vote the moment I heard it. It’s a rousing operatic anthem that builds to a huge crescendo AND they have the advantage of being last to perform. Once this one has ended you will be hard pressed to remember any that have gone before and it will bring the house down. You have been warned. Song is called ‘Un grande amore’.

So that’s my tip and next year in Rome (or maybe San Remo from where the contest can trace its roots 60 years ago this year).

So what about the UK? Brace yourselves guys…it’s going to be painful viewing for us. The song was blanked by nearly all the 40 or so fan clubs in the pre-contest predictive voting and they usually cumulatively predict the winners and losers. I don’t think people don’t like it or us…it’s just very bland and un-memorable. I’m hoping for 25 votes for the UK in total and if we get that much, then we will have done well.

And what of the rest? Any dark horses like that bearded sausage ‘woman’ from last year who I still can’t stand? The Finns were tipped to do this with their middle-aged punk band who swear while they perform and have learning difficulties. They were a real rebel’s choice. There was a lot of media hype around them and they were at one time an early favourite to upset the apple cart. They never made it through and neither did seven-times winners Ireland. The Irish seem to have lost their way in recent years, even more than us and Sweden is determined to snatch their crown as most successful nation of all. If you have Irish blood in you then you need to vote tactically for Italy as the main contender to stop the Viking advance (and thereby help my chaps win).

If there is a dark horse this year who will move hearts then keep an eye on the Polish entry. You’ll see why when she performs.

Got it covered: Vienna #1

imageWhat can you tell about a city and country you’ve never ever visited before after just a day? I’ve had just about a day here in the Austrian capital. Flight got in for 0915 and I was able to check into my hotel by 1045.

First impressions count. I know this from business in the way I make decisions on who I want to do business with and as I imagine my clients and prospective clients size me up too. So how is Vienna doing?

Pretty much a city that is ticking over with the precision of a neighbouring Swiss watch and with a similar quiet ease. I’m here on a Friday and experienced the evening weekend rush hour and wondered when it would become the frenetic haze I’m used to in London. Ok I’ve only been here about two minutes, but I can say I’m impressed. There is a sedate and refined ease here and people stop to
help each other. I witnessed this a number of times today and found myself getting caught up in this too, sticking out my limbs to hold open tram doors so an elderly lady could get on board not knowing if the tram would drag me and her along in its rush to get moving as might be the case back home.

I’ve been riding the trams here, catching taxis, shopping at supermarkets for my supper (no evening restaurant in the hotel or any nearby) and the German I was once kind of Ok using in my last job started flowing back and I’ve held at least two short conversations auf Deutsch to get places, buy stuff or just explain why my Deutsch is pretty rubbish.

So to Eurovision and part of the reason I’m here. They are bonkers for it here…but in a sedate and refined bonkery way. You can’t escape it. They are treating it here with the same seriousness Londoners treated the London 2012 Olympics (eventually). There are Eurovision ‘greeter’ people everywhere from the airport baggage reclaim to the tram stops, station platforms and city squares kitted out in Eurovision 2015 gear just to help the public and all fluent in English. My hotel is just outside the city centre but with the biggest and best hi-def TV screens with the widest choice of channels of anywhere I’ve stayed in the last 2 years – and that’s saying some considering the amount of travelling I’ve been doing. I get into my room, unpack, turn the TV on and within 4 clicks of the programme console, I’m watching the recent semi-finals – not just highlights with Nortonesque quips – but whole show repeats.

ALL buses and trams are flying Austrian and Eurovision flags. Abba is playing out in shopping malls and train stations. This is the biggest thing to hit Austria since that singing Nun and the Von Trapp sprogs illegally migrated from Austria to Switzerland.

The State broadcaster, ORF, is providing everyone with free plastic rain macs as we are in for 3 days of heavy rain, so I got mine and am covered in the event of the torrents. Oh…and that pic is of me in my Mac btw. The sound system and multiple giant TV screens at the park are awesome. Just more than a bit worried about being and standing out as Johnny-no-mates in the midst of a party full of highly weird but happy people. Believe me if you think I’m weird for my love of Eurovision, you need to step into my shoes right here and right now.

Tomorrow I’m going to pay my respects to Vienna and seek out the culture and sights that have made it a highly desirable city to visit long before and long after Eurovision ever darkened its doors. In the evening I’ll head back to the Rathaus to be among the throng and be a ‘ dirty stop out’ til the wee small hours for the first time since I learned there was a decade or three after 29.

Do I have any firm hunch on who will win Eurovision? Yep I do.

Herzlich Grüßen aus Österreich x