A Visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

I’m one of those Harry Potter fans who started with the films, and even though I’d seen people reading the books, especially on the train, I’d never felt compelled to read them myself. As someone who likes to read books before films generally, I felt I’d missed the boat on that one and the films would suffice for me. That was until I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, and on returning from the cinema my then 10 year old brother insisted I read the book, and the subsequent ones thereafter. That’s right, a 31 year old me was schooled by his sibling who wasn’t even at big school yet. So I followed his instruction, read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and yes, it did go into way more detail about the Quidditch World Cup as he’d promised, and so much more besides. I went back to read the first 3 books and became a release day fan of the books from then on, and the films too.

Fast forward 11 years and over a decade of being a huge Harry Potter fan, and we as a family finally decided to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. We live less than 30 miles away, so why did it take so long? Well in my mind it was expensive, further away than I realised, and I wanted my son Lucas to get the most of it, and at age 8 I decided that time was now. As for the cost, it was £97 for the three of us, and as someone who goes regularly to Disneyland Paris and has been to Legoland a few times, it’s comparable if not cheaper. A different experience entirely and hard to compare to those, but the Studio Tour would be a very unique experience, and for a family of Potterheads the cost shouldn’t have even come into equation. I did opt for the £3.95 postage option as it stated, and I quote Your tickets, or gift tickets will be posted in a ticket wallet. As someone who likes to collect all kinds of memorabilia, in my mind this could be a great memento of the day out and the associated memories. Plus it’s that piece of mind that actual physical tickets in your hand gives you, that a code or email most certainly doesn’t.

The tickets and wallet didn’t disappoint, and if all goes to plan they will become part of a framed montage of photos and other bits. I say planned because lots of things like this are still in the planning stage, most going back many years.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter Tickets

Just having these themed tickets and the wallet that contained them was enough to turn the excitement levels up a notch, and also a reminder that the Hogwarts Express was now a part of the experience, so we’d be getting a look at The Making of Harry Potter, better than it’s ever been.

Our tickets gave us an entry slot of 2.00 – 2.30pm, but me being me, insisted we leave early and so we were in the car park by 1.15pm, after being guided to an area with spaces. That in itself was a nice touch and guaranteed our visit started off in the most hassle free way possible. Give me free reign in a car park and I could quite easily lose a good chunk of the afternoon, much to the frustration of my family. You can’t miss the place, it’s well sign posted and as you draw near the huge Harry Potter posters, depicting scenes from the films can be seen, as well as three chess giant pieces from the first film, which made me quite giddy on seeing them. After the obligatory photos outside it was time to go in, or at least attempt to get in 30 minutes ahead of our ticket time.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

Just through the doors and already there is almost overwhelming number of things that my eyes darted between. The huge character posters on the walls were great, but then so were the props and costumes for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and then what’s that to the side of the main queue? Bear in mind that at this point I was only in the foyer, and already my geek radar was off the charts – it got overloaded not too long after. It turns out we could go in early and I got to see what it was that people were looking at in the queue – Harry Potter’s under the stairs dwelling from 4 Privet Drive. Inside were so many details and props, it was exactly like the films! It’s at that point the lightbulb went off and I had to remind myself, not like the films actually from the films themselves. One of the the staff members… hang on, in Disneyland Paris we call them Cast Members, which seems a lot warmer and friendly, so I’m going to use that term going forwards. So, one of the Cast Members made sure my son Lucas had spotted everything, including Harry’s glasses sitting on a shelf. I should point out that Lucas went dressed as Draco Malfoy, complete with slicked back hair and grey jumper that my wife had sewn a Slytherin patch on that we’d bought from the Platform 9 3/4 shop in King’s Cross, London.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. The Cupboard Under The Stairs

We were let in pretty quickly, into a waiting area with lots of poster shaped screens on the walls, which showed Harry Potter film posters from all over the world. When the allotted number of people were through the doors, they closed, the lights dimmed and those screens now gave us a short introduction to the Studios Tour. Through another set of doors and we took our seats in a small theatre, where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint came on screen to tell us a bit more. The Cast Member who introduced the show and addressed us afterwards was very animated, well spoken and helped create an exciting atmosphere. At this point I can say nothing more…magic happens 😉

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. The Great Hall

Walking into The Great Hall was the first of many goosebump moments, and being in such an iconic room was pretty awe inspiring, especially when you looked around and saw everything that you see in the films. The big long tables, 2 instead of 4 so that we had enough room, the light fittings on the walls representing the 4 houses, the teachers table at the top, and even the house point counting system. The teachers table had the costumes of the likes of Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall and more, all on mannequins that with the wigs added and they way they were positioned – let’s just say it felt very realistic. This was the last part of the tour where there was a time constraint, and we were ushered through to the next area before I’d like to have left, but realistically they can’t have everyone stay there without it becoming overcrowded and unsafe.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter - The Great Hall

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter - The Great Hall

Next came the main hall, in which sat scenes that were instantly recognisable and I defy any Potterhead to not feel quite emotional looking at them. Being the actual sets from the Harry Potter films they were of course accurate, but that didn’t stop me saying “it’s exactly like in the films” or “look, there’s that from that scene” many many times. It’s pinch yourself territory as you gaze upon the Gryffindor Common Room with the staircase leading up to the bedrooms. Inside the boys dormitory are so many props, and as a West Ham fan I was delighted to see Dean Thomas’ football scarf hung up near his bed, complete with West ham bedspread. Dumbledore’s Office is somewhere I could have stayed a lot longer, and will do next time I visit. There are so many props and items from the films, and every one tells a story. I’ll hold my hand up and admit to getting very excited on seeing the pensieve, the very one that Harry used to see the courtroom where his future was being determined.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Gryffindor Common Room

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Gryffindor Bedroom

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Dumbledore's Office

It was very surreal walking around looking at these sets, because although it was my first visit, it felt like coming home, such was the familiarity with everything I was seeing from multiple viewings of the films. It felt very comforting, being in that home that I’d never been in but knew every intimate detail of. Areas like Borgin and Burkes offered so many trinkets to look at and the scene at the table in Malfoy Mansion was terrifying, with Nagini looking every bit as life like as he did in the film. Nearby is the Ministry of Magic and every fibre of my being wished I had some floo powder, but alas I was left to take in the sheer scale of this set and marvel at everything around me.

Malfoy Mansion

Not everything was just look and don’t touch, as the green screen experiences allowed us to fly around the Harry Potter universe, on a broom and dressed in a Gryffindor cloak, or other houses, like Slytherin as Lucas requested. This was a lot of fun, with directions given by the Cast Member so as to look as natural as possible in the video. Speaking of which, photos and videos are available to buy at a cost of £14 for the first photo and £7 for each one thereafter. The video could be bought on a DVD or USB, I chose the latter, paying £5 extra to have it in a special old school video film tin. We came away with 3 photos and two videos, and there would have been more had I not knocked the camera when I got off my broom, and ruined my wife’s photos – sorry Denise! 2 of those photos were Lucas and I on brooms, the 3rd was the 3 of us in the Weasley flying Ford Anglia car – the first green screen photo opportunity before getting to the multiple broom booths.

A Visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter. Broomstick Green Screen Video

Now I’ve been to the real King’s Cross Station countless times as it’s the station I go into from my home town, but seeing the film set of Platform 9 3/4 was way better. Of course the one in London doesn’t have the Hogwarts Express, and suffers from only 1 trolley through the wall photo location, and that one is always mega busy. Walking through the carriages which change for each film was very cool – seeing the different props left in the carriages, from sweets and books to clothing. Stepping off was another green screen experience – this time in several booths that were set up to look like Hogwarts Express carriages. Just photos and no videos to buy this time, but we got to play Hogwarts’s students and react to the images appearing on the green screen windows. My wife told me off for being silly when I grabbed her arm and cowered behind her when a dementor appeared at the window. Hey, when they shout action I’m all in character – an Oscar awaits.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Around the corner from the train station is the cafeteria which served some great chicken goujons according to Lucas, but for me it was all about the drinks, and one drink specifically – Butterbeer! I selected the souvenir stein as I’m a sucker for memorabilia of all kinds, and imagined it sitting on display in my lounge where in fact it does now reside. I’d been told by friends that the Butterbeer was really sweet and as someone who doesn’t overly sweet things I braced myself, ready to be hit by a sugar overdose. I loved it, absolutely loved it! The official website describes it as reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch, and the butterscotch was the overriding taste experience for me. The froth on top not only gives it that beer look, but tastes delicious too. Aside from the sip I allowed Denise, I unexpectedly drunk the whole lot, taking time only to tweet @wbtourlondon a photo of my Butterbeer Moustache, which is apparently a thing. While on the topic of their Twitter, I had great interaction with them before, during and after my visit, made a lot easier on the day by free Wi-Fi that actually works, and with decent speeds. A tourist attraction boasting and fulfilling usable free Wi-Fi is somewhat of a rarity, so hats off to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London for that.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Butterbeer

The Knight Bus is parked outside number 4 Privet Drive, so you can get photos with both, though not inside. Well, you can stand at the bottom of the stairs of the Knight Bus, but you can’t enter Privet Drive at all. My guess is that just a facade and not an actual house. The best part of this outside collection of sets though is the bridge to Hogwarts, and being walk along that, admiring all the detail and reenacting Neville’s scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2, should you so desire. The next few rooms we went through in a bit of a rush as we had to get Lucas back for his pantomime rehearsal, but what we did see of the Creature workshop looked amazing, with the Basilisk and Aragog really standing out. The latter was hanging from the ceiling and startled me as I turned the corner – that’s one big spider!

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Aragog

From Aragog to Diagon Alley, and once again I had that giddy childlike feeling, as I walked along looking at shops that I knew so well, from Ollivanders to Gringotts, and the Daily Prophett to Weasley’s Wiazard Wheezes. Because this is a set that spans the whole length of the hall, with building fronts on both sides, it’s self contained and it felt so real that I almost expected Harry and Hagrid to come around the corner at any moment. It was so hard being on tight schedule and having to leave Diagon Alley without giving it the attention it deserved, but that’s something else for next time.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Diagon Alley

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Diagon Alley

The paper models of the sets were fantastic, and so detailed, but what came next blew my mind, possibly more than anything I’d seen up to that point, and that’s saying a lot. The last part, before the shop, of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts and all the surrounding grounds. Words and photos will never do this masterpiece justice and you absolutely have to see it for yourself – I was speechless in awe, managing eventually to utter “this is amazing”. I could have spent hours walking around, seeing in intricate detail so many familiar settings from the 8 films, that have been crafted by people with more skill than I can imagine. It was a humbling experience, being in that room with that model, and was the perfect way to end the tour.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Paper Model

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Model

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Model

I say end, but there was the wand room with walls of wands from floor to ceiling, before entering the shop, which sold more Harry Potter merchandise than you could ever dream of. Having bought a total of 5 photos and 2 videos, combined with being short on time, we must have been the only family not to spend money in the shop that day, but that’s not because I didn’t want to. I have my eyes on that Gryffindor Quidditch jumper, a few wands, the Triwizard cup, the game….you get the point. If you are a Harry Potter fan then that shop could quite easily render you bankrupt in mere minutes, and I didn’t even mention all the sweets and chocolate frogs that are boxed exactly like they are in the films, with 3D cards included inside.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

I’m not sure what I was expecting going through the doors that day, but I got so much more than I could have ever imagined. To be able to walk around the world of a film and book series I love so much, and be so close to the actual sets and scenes I’ve seen on screen was incredibly special. The atmosphere was truly magical and I had a feeling of pure joy the whole way round, as each part offered me something new to stare in wonder and soak in. Inanimate objects for the most part, but I could the feel life and adventures oozing from between each brick and pouring from every prop. I would say that visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but although it felt that special, I can return, as many times as my bank balance and schedule will allow. The Cast Members were all wonderful – happy, fun, helpful and obviously relishing the opportunity to share their love of Harry Potter with the every person who visited. On returning I have since found out there is a season called Hogwarts in the Snow, and so on November 21st Denise I will be returning to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London to experience a combination of Harry Potter and Christmas, and I cant think of anything better. I might very well have found a new favourite place to be.

Meeting Paul Warren / Varmik from Star Wars The Force Awakens and more at Wycombe Comic Con

After a great day at MCM London Comic Con last month I scoured the internet for another comic con I could take my son to, that wasn’t too far away and didn’t cost the earth. London Film & Comic Con looks great, and is even on my birthday weekend, but at £55 for my wife, son and I, before adding in £50+ for train fares it’s just too much for one day. Enter Wycombe Comic Con – only an hour away and just £9 for my son and I booked in advance. Unfortunately my wife was working today, but if she’d been with us, it would have been £15 for all three – the price of one Blu-ray.

It was pouring with rain but we found a parking space not too far away and walked to the venue, Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe. Before we even entered the building we were greeted by a trio of iconic cars – the Batmobile from the 1989 and 1992 Batman films, Bumblebee from the Transformers films and Lightning McQueen from Cars, kind of.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Film Cars

The comic con was in two separate buildings, the signings and prop displays in the Student Union Bar and hallway, with the merchandise traders in another building a short walk away. Before we even got to the special guests we were spending money, on a photo of Lucas and I in front of the Tardis, with K9 and Davros flanking us. It was just £5 and the guys running it were very friendly and chatted to us the whole time, including an interesting story about a famous TV star, which I won’t repeat on here! The photo came in a cardboard frame and is already on display in our lounge.

The signing area was smaller than I’m used to at the big events in London, but it didn’t feel cramped and it was actually nice to see so many famous faces in one place. The dimmed lighting and comfortable surrounds made it feel intimate and relaxed, which is what you want for this kind of affair. The big names for us Star Wars fans were Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and David Prowse (Darth Vader), both of whom we’ve met before, several times in the case of Jeremy. Just about to leave this area and Lucas and I were both drawn to a guy called Paul Warren, who had images of characters from lots of films we recognised on his table – Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Thor, X-Men, Harry Potter and of Course Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Paul had an iPad on his table and was able to show us exactly which character he played in The Force Awakens, which turned out to be Varmik, a Hassk who can be seen in Maz’s place on Takodana. He told us about the inspiration for the character, which came from some classic McQuarrie art, and how two different artists came up with Varmik and Zeb (Star Wars Rebels) at a similar time. Without knowing it they had created two very similar characters, both of who made it to the recent Star Wars projects.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Paul Warren

We went on our way but later returned, as I was keen to grab an action figure that Paul would sign. I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars action figures and have hundreds still boxed from the past few decades – to have one signed by the guy who played the character was too good an opportunity to pass up. We chatted some more and though he couldn’t say definitively yes, I have a feeling we may be seeing him in Star Wars Episode 8, and possibly some of the other upcoming Star Wars films too. Of course it being 2016 I couldn’t walk away without selfie, in which we managed to get Paul, Lucas, myself and the banner of Paul’s character Varmik. Paul was a pleasure to chat to and as a huge Star Wars fan of 35 years, any chance to talk to someone actually involved with the films is a thrill. Lucas wasn’t that bothered about getting the packaging of the action figure signed, until I explained this would be one of Daddy’s toys that wouldn’t be opened and played with!

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Paul Warren Varmik Action Figure

Away from Star Wars and I was delighted to see several tables from the The Hill Valley Preservation Society – a plethora of props from the actual Back to the Future films, that I was certain I’d watched with Lucas but he insists he hasn’t seen them. It was fantastic to see such items as Marty’s skateboard and personal strero (not Walkman as it was AIWA!), the 1950-2000 Grays Sports Almanac and of course the iconic hover board from the second film which people have been trying to recreate ever since.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Over in the trading hall there was pretty good selection of stands selling all kinds of merchandise, with Funko Pops being as omnipresent as they always are these days. I did my usual of looking at some very uniquely designed Star Wars t-shirts that I’d never seen before, several times, but deciding I didn’t need them, and regretting it as soon as I got home. It was business as usual for Lucas who bought yet more knock off imitation LEGO mini figures and some Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Infinity figures.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Selfie With Biker Scout & Stormtrooper

We were at Wycombe Comic Con for about two hours, and that included a few photos Lucas had taken with whichever Star Wars cosplayers he could find – his standard comic con behaviour. The staff were all very friendly and in abundance, making sure there was always someone available to tell us where to go and the ever important intel of where the toilets were. We will definitely return next year and I’d recommend it to anyone as a good introduction to Comic Cons, especially if you have small children. We aren’t due to visit another con until MCM London Comic Con returns in October, unless an opportunity presents itself before then.

Star Wars Episode VIII is delayed until December 2017, and here’s why that’s a good thing

When it was announced that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was to be released in December of last year and not the traditional May, there was quite an uproar from fans, myself included. That’s okay though, because Episode 8 is coming out in May next year, and the traditional month for Star Wars film premieres can be upheld once again. Wrong, because as of yesterday Episode 8 will also now come out in December, making it a full 2 years between films.

Star Wars Episode 8

The actual release date is 15th December 2017, and I for one couldn’t be happier. As a huge Star Wars how can that make sense – surely I’d want to see it as soon as possible? Well yes, but December worked so well for the release of The Force Awakens, as it meant lots of free time over the Christmas holiday period to see it multiple times, without having to worry about going to work, or school for the boy. Then there’s Christmas, and shelves full of cool new Star Wars toys, strictly for the boy of course, honest, not for me, nope, none at all for me, at all. Maybe just a few bits. Lastly there’s the box office, and aside from being the most anticipated film of all time, the holiday period allowed people like myself to see it multiple times and make it the third biggest film ever, behind just Titanic and Avatar. What else is there to do during cold wet winter periods? That’s right nothing, just regular return trips to the cinema to see Star Wars again, and again, and again.

So there you have it, it’s absolutely the right decision to move the release date back to December to 2017, also giving them an extra 7 months to make sure it’s absolutely the best it can be. It also gives us another half a year to theorise as to who Rey is, and where she has come from. But that’s another post for another time.

The last night of uneducated moon photography

For a few years now I’ve enjoyed looking at the moon, using the £10 pair of 10×50 binoculars I bought after watching an episode of BBC Stargazing. Naturally, being a wannabee photographer I’ve tried taking photos of the lunar wonder, and was for years terribly unsuccessful. That was until I read up online about spot metering, plus the ISO and exposure settings I should be using. Bear in mind this was all to be done using a compact camera with a very small sensor, so the results, even if I got the settings right, were never going to be that wonderful.

After buying, trying and selling many compact, bridge, compact system and DSLR cameras, I currently have a 5 year old Panasonic TZ10, 3 year old Fuji X10 and a 3 month old Sony RX100. The Panasonic is the one I am most familiar with and have used it to take moon photos a number of times. It’s 12x optical zoom, combined with the 4x digital zoom on top gives a total zoom of 48x. This is great for getting up close and personal with someing as far away as the moon, but due to the aforementioned small sensor, the images are very noisy, especially if you pixel peep. However, I do know how to access the desired settings, so that’s something at least. This is an image I produced, taken during my 45 minute zero degree temperature session in the back garden earlier this evening.

Moon photo taken with Panasonic TZ10

For a £150 compact camera that first came on the market more than half a decade years ago, that’s not too bad. Just don’t view it full resolution and you can be satisfied. The Fuji and Sony I had far less success with, and for some reason could not access the metering options to change it to spot, which meant the cameras focused on the whole of the night sky, which is why the result is a glowing blob in the with no detail. In the case of the Fuji, one wasn’t even in focus at all, so I ended up with a blurred blob, which wasn’t what I was going for.

Moon photo taken with Fuji X10

I have no idea what I was doing with the Sony, which gave me lots of options, but not the ones that gave me anywhere near a decent result. This was definitely a case of not knowing my camera, though in the case of the second shot I’m guessing the exposure time was too long. I will say, the bright blob photo taken with the Sony does look to have a tiny bit of surface detail compared too that taken with the Fuji, around the edge at least. Having by a far biggest sensor it’s obviously wanting to perform, but limited user knowledge is holding it back.

Moon photo taken with Sony RX100

I proclaimed in the title of this post that this was my last night of uneducated moon photography, so what next? First of all I need to read the manuals for both my Fuji and Sony, though with such small optical zooms the results are not going to be great even with a bigger sensor than the Panasonic and having all the settings in order. I’ll give it a go though. After that I might be on the hunt for a new camera – one that offers a bigger optical zoom and better sensor than my Panasonic, but doesn’t break the bank. With those requirements I’m thinking a bridge camera is going to be ideal compromise between performance and price. Maybe down the line I’ll be publishing a clear photo of the moon, and beyond.

First official trailer for Suicide Squad, and it looks tremendous

Just one day after writing about the gorgeously styled Suicide Squad posters, the first official trailer is here, in all it’s Queen soundtracked glory.

From the trailer it would seem that Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn are the two main characters of the Squad, which is pretty much what it is in the comics too, and given their characters and actors portraying them, it’s the most obvious route to take. Depending on how much time they get and how they play out, I’m sure other characters will have somewhat of a following after the film has premièred. I am still a little disappointed that we have Killer Croc rather than King Shark, given how entertaining he is in the comics, but I’ll leave my final judgement until I’ve actually seen the film.

It was evident from the footage we saw last year and from the images we’ve seen, that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was likely to steal the show, and this trailer only reinforces that theory. Not since Robert Downey Jr. showed up as the flamboyant Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man have I seen a comic book character depicted so brilliantly in a film, and just like Robert, Margot looks like she has walked straight off the pages of the comics onto the screen – the New 52 version of Harley Quinn anyway.

As for Joker, we still haven’t seen a great deal, but Jared Leto looks very menacing and less jovial than some previous Jokers in what we have seen so far. Sorry to harp on about comics, but he does seem more in line with Joker from the recent Scott Snyder series of comics than previous incarnations, and if that is the case, then that is a very very good thing. I’m almost salivating at the thought of Harley and Joker’s first scene together, and how much they’ll bring their torrid history into play.

So here we are, day two of Suicide Squad reveals and it’s a great one, making my ability to patiently wait for its summer launch even harder. I’ll leave you the end slate of the trailer, which just like the posters yesterday, is wonderfully simple but devilishly styled.

Suicide Squad trailer end slate

Incredible new Suicide Squad film posters

In a world that seems to be overflowing with superhero films, one stands out this year for me, that being Suicide Squad. Starting life as a comic book, as most superhero films do, Suicide Squad brings together a group of misfit criminals who are recruited by a secret government organisation to take on secret missions that require their special set of skills and personalties, and so these activities can’t be tracked back to those in charge. The catch? If any of them deviate from the plan then their heads get blown off thanks to a specially implanted chip. At least that’s how I understand it from reading the New 52 Suicide Squad comic story arcs of recent years, which have been my introduction to the story and characters.

The new film comes out in August, and of the cast it’s Jared Leto and Margot Robbie as Joker and Harley Quinn respectively, that both intrigue me the most and look the best from photos and trailers, of which the latter we are due a second any day now. Harley Quinn is a character I’ve read quite a bit of recently, with the latest set of comics written by Jimmy Palmiotti and beautifully drawn by a group of artists, led by Amanda Conner and Chad Hardin, being a fantastic mix of humour and utterly ridiculous adventures based in reality and beyond.

So to the title of this post, and these great posters that were revealed online yesterday by director David Ayer and some of the cast members. Once again it is Harley Quinn and Joker that are the stand outs, but the style is so different to what you’d usually see from film posters, but definitely in keeping the ethos of the Suicide Squad.

Suicide Squad film poster

Suicide Squad Slipknot film poster

Suicide Squad Katana film poster

Suicide Squad Diablo film poster

Suicide Squad Rick Flag film poster

Suicide Squad Killer Croc film poster

Suicide Squad Killer Enchantress film poster

Suicide Squad Killer Harley Quinn film poster

Suicide Squad Joker Enchantress film poster

With the probable exception of Star Wars: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts, Suicide Squad is the my most eagerly anticipated film of 2016, and everything so far seems to indicate it won’t disappoint, and is in keeping with the what makes the comics such a great read.

Finding Star Wars actors in the strangest of places

It was last weekend in Cambridge when we walked inside a shop called Gifted – a rather nondescript gift shop that did have one redeeming feature, a large display of Funko Pop! figures. As a family of casual collectors this drew us in, and it was only then that the Harley Quinn glasses presented themselves to me, but that’s another story for another time.

Gifted store in cambridge

It was my wife who overheard one of the staff talking to a customer, and the fact that he’d been an extra in a Star Wars film… Um, what? I was in a shop, just a random shop in Cambridge, and all of a sudden I find out I’m in the presence of someone who appeared in one of the greatest films that has ever been created – mind blown.

We get chatting, and it turns out he was an extra in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking and you can stop right there, bucko. I happen to like The Phantom Menace, a lot, and I know that’s not a popular opinion, especially for someone who grew up with the Original Trilogy but you see that? Yeah, well that’s me not caring. The way I see it I have 7 Star Wars films to enjoy and naysayers only have 4, including The Force Awakens, so who’s the unlucky one really, hey?

Brain Watkins - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace extra

Anyway, back on track and we had a great chat with Brian Watkins, the name of this fine chap who traveled over to Tunisia to be in the presence of acting royalty such as Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor. He told us a few stories of his time on set and spoke very fondly of the actors and the cinematic deity that is George Lucas. He may have been just a man in the background when Qui Gon Jinn and Watto were talking, but to my son and I that Sunday he was our hero du jour. Thanks for chatting Brian, and posing for a photo with some people for which Star Wars is more than just some films. I get the feeling you got quite kick from the attention, and why not, you had quite an adventure and were kind enough to share it with us.

Brain Shaw wins World’s Strongest Man 2015 in thrilling final

I’ve always had my favourites when it comes to World’s Strongest Man, a sport I’ve been following for almost 4 decades, and since he burst onto the scene in 2009 it’s been Brian Shaw. I say 2009, but Brian was actually in the heats of the 2008 competition, but lost out to Arild Haugen and eventual winner Mariusz Pudzianowski in heat 3 of the qualifiers. That’s something I don’t recall, which for me is quite puzzling given my of almost encyclopaedic memory of World’s Strongest Man competitions, and deems a rewatch in the near future.

With 2 World’s Strongest Man titles under his belt already, he was one of the odds on faviourites for the 2015 competition and halfway through the final it looked like he was going to run away with it. A slight hiccup in the Super Yoke to start the final saw Shaw lose handily to Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, but wins in the Deadlift and Truck Pull put Shaw at the top with a 3 point lead, and saw 4 time winner Žydrūnas Savickas languishing back in 3rd place. I turned to my wife and said this is when Big Z usually starts to take it up a gear, and true to my prophetic words he won the Power Stairs and Log Press, with Shaw getting beaten by Björnsson in the Power Stairs too.

With just one event to go I did think that Big Z was on his way to title number 5 rather than Shaw to title number 3. Add into the equation that Björnsson has been the King of the Stones in the last 2 years and a poor performance could even see Shaw relegated to 3rd place, I was a little worried. As much as I wanted Shaw to win, I wanted Big Z to win more than Björnsson, who seems to have lost his likeability factor in the last 12 months, replaced instead with an arrogance that has maybe come from his time starring in Game of Thrones. Does ‘Thor’ now think he’s above World’s Strongest Man? I have no problem with a cocky attitude, as long as it’s warranted and isn’t so much that it starts to grate. See the late great Jón Páll Sigmarsson for the perfect combination of personality and talent. It could of course all be a case of lost in translation, so on with the show.

Shaw v Savickas in the Atlas Stones Photo Credit: theworldsstrongestman.com

Back to the final and we have just the Atlas Stones to go, as is traditional. Björnsson is up against 4th place Eddie Hall who has been a sensation in in his first appearance in the final, and can you believe it – Eddie Hall beat him! It wasn’t close either, Eddie Hall trounced the King of the Stones by almost 8 seconds, which at this point in the competition is huge. It’s now down to Shaw vs. Savickas, and whoever wins, takes the crown. On the first stone it looked pretty close, but then Shaw pulled ahead, only for Big Z to catch up. It couldn’t have been closer going into the final stone, but Brian Shaw managed to beat the legendary Lithuanian and take the title of World’s Strongest Man 2015. Worth noting that while they were battling to be champ, neither man posted a time faster than Eddie Hall, who is the 2015 King of the Stones and came 4th overall. Can this guy go all the way and give the UK it’s first World’s Strongest Man since Gary Taylor in 1993?

I watched the final with my 7 year old son, much like I did with my father at the same age, and we were both jumping off the sofa as the final came to its climax. A tradition I enjoyed as a child is now one I can enjoy every year with my own son, and maybe he’ll do the same his own children one day too. It turns out that Savickas may have been carrying a back injury into the final, which is scary considering how close he came to winning the whole thing. But don’t let that take anything from Brain Shaw, who showed once again that he is on his way to becoming one of the very best of all time, and has now equalled Bill Kazmaier’s 3 victories and joins him as the most successful American in World’s Strongest Man, as well as one of the nicest and most intelligent. I eagerly await the 2016 competition, and my annual ritual of avoiding any spoilers for months on end until the traditional holiday period broadcast.

Jean-Michel Jarre and the Yellow Sony Walkman

Though the title of this post might have you thinking otherwise, this is not a slightly bizarre children’s story. Last week in Cambridge my wife and I entered Fopp after accepting the CD challenge, which required us both to buy a CD, no excuses. This shouldn’t be such a hard task, given their range and how much music is out there, both old and new. I have to be in the right mood though, and what might seem like a must buy album one day, won’t even get a look in the next. Last Wednesday seemed like one of those days, until I was about to leave the store and spotted a new Jean-Michel Jarre album in the section of recommendations near the door.

Jean-Michel Jarre - Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I had no idea Jarre has a new album out, having not released anything since 2007 he’d pretty much dropped off my radar. Needless to say it was an instant purchase, along with my wife’s choice of Disney Princess Christmas Album, a CD she was just as happy to get as I was with an album with someone I’ve admired for almost 30 years, and why not. Some music makes me happy, some makes me sad and some sparks transports me right back to specific times in my life. Jean-Michel Jarre has the unique ability to not only elicit all kinds of emotions, but his music takes me to a completely different world, somewhere in the future, a place of fantasy, but most importantly away from whatever may be on my mind.

I first listened to Jarre in 1988, which also happened to be the same year I was given my very first Sony Walkman. Until that birthday in July I’d been using a personal stereo made by budget technology juggernauts Alba, which had been loaned to be my childminder a few year’s previously. The Sony Walkman Sports I had chosen had many features new to me, like the much sought after rewind button and a solar powered clock on the front. I have no idea why I wanted that clock, but unlike the myth about magpies I’ve always been drawn to shiny new things and superfluous features on my gadgets. That’s probably why this particular Walkman being waterproof in hard yellow plastic and rubber seals was also a huge bonus to me, at the time. It also had two headphone sockets, which would be fantastic now as a married man, but at the time I was some years away from having anyone to share my music with, at least in the intimate setting of a duel socket Sony Walkman. In many ways this particular tape player was ahead of its time, my time at least.

Sony Walkman Sports WM-B52

I had a lot of love for that Sony WM-B52 Sports Walkman, and from the previous paragraph it’s evident I still have, but what does it have to do with Jean-Michel Jarre? Well Oxygene was the first cassette I ever played in it, and on that day of my birthday I bought the newest album, Revolutions in the Oxford Street HMV in London. Buying Jarre’s latest album Electronica 1: The Time Machine last week, brought a slurry of memories flooding back, about Jarre’s music and that Walkman, so much so that I am hoping to procure one on eBay as I type. Will I be successful in my quest, and will that lead me to moving from vinyl to cassette as a way to cling onto my childhhood? I’ll keep you updated, at least until the next spark of nostalgic inspiration becomes my latest obsession. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the new album is fantastic.

They beat me, don’t let them beat you

Though I’m certain the majority of people reading this will have arrived via Dedicated to DLP channels, this is at its core about me, not Disneyland Paris. As such I am posting on my little used personal blog rather than on Dedicated to DLP. Right now, as I write this, I should be just a few hours away from getting the train to go to Lille, and then on to Disneyland Paris itself, but I’m not. Is it connected with what happened on Friday in Paris? Yes. Is it solely to do with that? No.

At the start of this year I was diagnosed with anxiety, in particular health and death anxiety. I know, the guy that puts himself on video, talks on a podcast for hours on end and is usually one of the louder people around – how can that guy have problems with anxiety? It’s been there for many years, but it was only recently that I sought help and had a label put on it, which in itself may not have helped, but that’s another conversation for another time. With so many people expecting me to both be in Disneyland Paris, and reporting on the Christmas season (due to my own self-promotion, not because I’m in any way important enough to be on people’s minds), I thought it only right to attempt an explanation, in hope that you may understand or at least be informed enough to make a judgement, should you wish.

What triggers my anxiety and the way it affects me is not something I can pin down and list in a logical way, because logic and reasoning are factors I am very much aware of, and often crave, but are sometimes absent in the way my mind works, at least in these situations. Of course my boundless sympathy for those affected and admiration for people battling through adversity comes first, but ever since the atrocities of last Friday in Paris I’ve not been able to stop thinking about my own trip, and the possibility of something like that happening to me. See, this is where the logic comes in, and I’ve even been telling people myself on social media, that security is at an all-time high and the likelihood of anything happening right now is very small. Does that stop me thinking the worst though? Sometimes, for short periods, but then the doubts start flooding back and soon it’s all I can think about.

I thought I had a handle on it, but last night that all unravelled with a succession of incidents that led to my anxiety peaking to levels it hasn’t for months. In saying good night to my 7 year old son, he hugged me tighter than usual and for longer, saying he didn’t want me to go ‘because of the bombs’. I assured him I would be fine, and in my mind I wanted to stay strong for him and set a good example. The mood was lightened a bit when he said that although he was worried, he did want the presents I’d promised to bring back! At this point I thought it would be okay, until somebody on social media expressed surprise I was still going. They didn’t give any more detail and it was an innocent comment, but from great acorns..well, you know the rest. From there I started to Google questions about the safety of travelling to Paris and along the way, and I don’t even know how this was triggered, I got an image in my head of something bad happening on a train. That was it – the panic set in, the cold sweats came on and my stomach was in knots. This was followed by pacing round the room, and rapid shallow breathing as a nagging doubt had transformed into abject fear. At this point I knew my trip was over before it had started.

The problem is that on this occasion, not only would I be doing exactly what the terrorists wanted, but I was also ruining it for my friend Mark who was going on the trip with me. It’s a problem that has stopped me getting on a plane for 14 years, even though my Mum spends 6 months of the year in Spain. It has also stopped me getting on trains and going to events more times than I can remember. I get in my car every morning, which statistically is the worst form of travel, but as I said, there’s no room for logic and reason here.

I wish more than anything I didn’t think like this, and that the anxiety didn’t grab a hold and strangle me like it does, more so the for the people around me that are affected than myself. There’s always a feeling of failure and letting people down associated with it, and especially this time. Maybe in time it will get better, but for now I’m just thankful to have understanding and tolerant people supporting me. It means I don’t get to go to Disneyland Paris this one time – so what. There are families who will have one less person around the table for Christmas dinner this year, they are the people who need our love and attention. What I want to make very clear is that this is just an explanation of my situation and decision; it is absolutely not a plea for sympathy. Save that for the millions of people around the world affected by things that fortunately many of us will never be able to comprehend.