Monday, 14 January 2013

Why is British television so good?

After a long hiatus, I have finally managed to get my hands on the third season of Doctor Who.  At the same time, I've devoured Sherlock season one, and now, this awful dilemma: which do I love more?  Both are clever, intense, full of amazing characters and mind-bending problems.  We are in awe of Sherlock's keen insights, amazed at the Doctor's ability to think his way out of life-threatening situations.  Both characters are time-honoured, have a loyal companion along to share in their exploits, and often talk over the heads of those around them.  Sherlock, however, tends to explain right away instead of later.  Both have Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss on their writing panels.  Both are brilliant.  So can I just say I love the writers the best, and not have to choose between these two fantastic series?

These fan-made Doctor Who/Sherlock crossovers will make you laugh, sigh, and 'ship WholockThese fan-made Doctor Who/Sherlock crossovers will make you laugh, sigh, and 'ship WholockThese fan-made Doctor Who/Sherlock crossovers will make you laugh, sigh, and 'ship Wholock
(Fan art from:

Monday, 7 January 2013

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Les Miserables Review

WARNING: I talk about everything in the film: if you don't like spoilers, please do not read on until after you have watched Les Miserables in its entirety.  Thank you.  And thanks for reading.

We discovered the original cast recording of Les Miserables in our teens.  It was filed in the back of the CD case, behind Rattle and Hum, a massive collection of music that captivated our attention like almost no other (Phantom and the Andrew Lloyd Webber collection were its main rivals).  My sister and I, baking, playing cards, spending all those long summer days reading, sang Stars and played Valjean and Javert in their epic counterpoint encounter, throwing dramatic poses and pretend sword fighting in the living room.  A month ago, waiting for a street light to change, we were delighted to discover that we still knew all of the words. As kids, we didn't know the story - we gathered as much as we could from the worn lyric booklet - but I think it is a witness to the power and grace of the composition that it was able to so captivate the hearts of two kids in crazy times such as ours.

It was with this bias that I went to watch the new production in movie theatres a couple days ago.  I as a rule tend to research films as little as possible beforehand - I like to be surprised.  And my first surprise was delightful.

* Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers-
Every Musical film fan's dream!  These two triple named stars of proved Sweeney Todd fame were hilarious.  Quirky, with subtle humour, and a comedic ease that evoked laughs as easily as they pulled purses out of pockets, they worked incredibly well together, with trust and ease.

* While we're on the topic of casting, Hugh Jackman -YES! oh my gosh.  The best moment for me was when he was singing to Cosette in the carriage, and everything about him, his manner, his face, his voice, was tender father. Strong voice, confident, believable, lovable, expressive.  I have to say he was my favourite.

Anne Hathaway -YES! The shift in her character is so tragic, she handles it beautifully, and oh what a voice and oh what a heart-wringing soul shaking performance of I Dreamed A Dream.

Marius - I loved the casting choice - not your romantic-typical - he's a young man and he's afraid and in love and he has freckles.  I loved that.

Aaron Tveit - a brilliant Enjolras, I would have followed that charismatic freedom fighter to the end.

Cosette - I hadn't realized before actually watching Les Mis that Cosette is a pretty flat character.  Eponine is much more interesting, which is why On My Own is perhaps more heart stirring.  I thought these two were good, but I kept thinking, Mamma Mia, is that you?

And the next one, he gets his own star...

*Speaking of Mamma Mia, perhaps the best way to open this paragraph is to mention the elderly couple behind sitting behind us who said something about Pierce Brosnan during Stars.  The weakest performance in this Musical Adaptaion was definitely Russell Crowe.  For me, it would have been fine if his acting had matched up to the expressiveness of his co-actors, but in my opinion he made Javert into a wooden toy soldier. Maybe that works for Javert, but I don't know... Was it just me, or was there an increase in dramatic camera angles to give Stars any kind of emotional power?  I must say though, that there were two times he made me care about Javert: the scene where he pins the medal on Gavoche (almost cried) and when he's walking along the bridge and you know what's going to happen and you're like (well at least I was) "Don't do it, don't do it!"  But after having grown up on the OBC, I couldn't give the Javert of the film any power.  He didn't have the rich, tragic voice that so wants to do well and right that it cannot accept failure, or Grace.
*On the musical choices: The fact that all the voices were recorded on set while filming was excellent - it gave the film an almost Brechtian quality in that the voices weren't perfect all the time - reality and honest raw performance were highlighted instead of technically "perfect" vocal usage.

*Visuals: striking pictures - Valjean and Marius covered in black slime, only the whites of Jean's eyes showing; grand sets - the ship yard at the beginning.

*Les Miserables is about the downtrodden of French society in the 19th century, but I felt that the film was very conscious of how the social issues in the play are no different from the social conditions of our world today.  We too are living in a time of revolution.  Of warfare and poverty and hunger and depravity and injustice.  The close-ups of characters as they sing prevents us from turning our heads, not noticing the suffering that we are suddenly so uncomfortably face to face with.  We can't just keep walking by.  We have to see the tears and the dirt and the sores.  We have to see Fantine torn apart by pain, we cannot run from Valjean's confession in his Soliloquy.  Like the comfortable bourgeois couple in their carriage, we are affronted by Gavroche's sudden appearance in our window, and suddenly our comfortable movie theatre with padded seats and warm popcorn is invaded by dirty street urchins, conniving innkeepers, drunks, prostitutes, criminals, young people with idealistic fire in their eyes.  The way this film goes about showing people their own hearts is brilliant; I know I was emotionally exhausted afterwards.

*All in all, I think this film accomplished what it set out to do: tell the story in a raw and believable way.  Though I found the beginning a little jarring with pacing and some camera choices, it wasn't long before I was living in the film, hoping that it wouldn't have to end. But when it did, oh, the final scene with Fantine calling Valjean home and the "curtain call" at the end with that powerful last set of chords, oh, I was in heaven.

So, those are my first viewing thoughts.  Hopefully, I'll be able to share some second viewing thoughts, and third viewing, and fourth viewing...