Thursday, May 31, 2012

Les Miserables, Hollywood Style

When I was in High School, I discovered two amazing Broadway musicals: "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables". Of the two, my hands-down favorite was "Les Miserables", and I alternated listening to the Broadway and London versions over the years, enjoying the slight differences, feeling moved by the amazing score, and emotionally connecting, first with Eponine and Cosette and later with Fantine and ValJean. 

I even went to see the touring show when I was a senior in HS, and though our seats were terrible I remember a few tidbits from the show clearly, and it has always been one of my most loved, most favorite Broadway productions to listen to or watch. I blogged here about the amazing concert version, which I LOVED. 

In that link (in the last paragraph), I think I communicated my complete and utter loathing of the filmed "Phantom of the Opera" featuring Gerard Butler in the title role. I found it atrocious and dull and offensively poorly sung and acted and I didn't get it at all. I had never seen the show onstage, so I'm not sure if it's just that the show is a bit campy and over-the-top, but I had always loved the music, so this adaptation was frustrating to me. I wish that when they make movie versions of Broadway shows that they would seriously consider casting stars of the stage instead of only using big(ish) named Hollywood types. 

I have to say, though, my loathing of Butler's performance is second only to the mockery of modern theater that is the filmed version of "Jekyll and Hyde" starring... it's bad... you sure you want to know? Okay... David Hasselhoff. Yep. I warned you. It was uncomfortable to watch... and that's putting it mildly. I understand he did play the part on the stage, but that doesn't make him a Broadway-caliber singer. It just makes him a gimmick.

SO, when I heard they were making a full-on movie-film version of "Les Miserables", I was a bit nervous, to say the least. It's only the best, most popular, most beloved musical of all time. Let's not muck it up, okay? I decided to reserve judgment... to wait before I decided it would be awful... Then I heard about the casting. Here's the list of principals from IMDB (don't ask me why they are in this order):

Sacha Baron CohenSacha Baron Cohen...
Helena Bonham CarterHelena Bonham Carter...
Anne HathawayAnne Hathaway...
Amanda SeyfriedAmanda Seyfried...
Hugh JackmanHugh Jackman...
Russell CroweRussell Crowe...

Hugh Jackman? Okay. He's pretty enough to at least make watching pleasant, and he's a dang good actor and he's done a large handful of Broadway shows, so I assume he really can sing. And I liked Amanda Seyfried in "Mamma Mia", so there's promise there. But Anne Hathaway? Hmm... Russell Crowe? Hmm... I don't know. Plus, would the filmmakers give the story the grit and truth it deserves, without overdoing the drama-- bleeding into melodrama? I was nervous, but still mildly interested. Until I saw this: 

First of all, Anne Hathaway manages to inject such pure, raw emotion into the song, that I pretty much stopped thinking and was sucked into the story immediately. Probably because I know the story so well... it might not have that effect on you if you aren't familiar with it. That also might mean you've grown up under a rock and it's time to come out into the sunshine and get to know your world... 

My only complaint (and I know, I complain too much) is that she is feigning that British accent again. These are French characters being played by Americans, Australians and Brits (and probably other nationalities, too). Would it matter much for her to just use her own American accent? Maybe. Anyway, I've not been impressed by her accent in the past ("Becoming Jane"), but maybe it's improved and won't be distracting this time.

Secondly, Jackman looks great--as usual, even in "I've been imprisoned for 19 years" beard and makeup, he looks perfect. Crowe looks great, and the scenery, costumes and even the grime looks authentic and "period-accurate". 

Mostly, though, I am comforted in my expectations after hearing Hathaway sing most of the first act's show stopping song, and carrying it off well. 

I do hope that Helena Bonham Carter has had some voice lessons, though, because as Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd", she was all breathy wimpyness. Cohen, however, was quite good in "Todd", so casting him as Thenardier might just be genius. Fingers crossed...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

At the Movies

Out here in small-town Utah, we have no giant megaplex-style movie houses. We do, however, have a drive-in, an old two-screen theater and the slightly more modern (I think it was built in the 90's), recently upgraded Cinema 6. Here's what's showing this weekend. I wonder if the movie in theater 6 is a local production...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Today's News

It's Geek Pride Day and Towel Day. Go to my other blog for more...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: The Fires of Heaven

This is not the first time I've read this book, but I still enjoyed it very much. I'm still not sure what the title refers to... sometimes I miss the obvious. And sometimes I think authors toss words into a hat and draw some out to create titles of fantasy fiction novels. 

The climactic scene with Nynaeve and Moghedien is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. The first time I read it, I SO didn't see what happens coming, and the surprise and cleverness was a thrill to read. I also like the stuff with Rand and Aviendha-- I think she's my favorite of his girlfriends. I did miss Perrin, though. This is the first book where one of our main characters doesn't have a story, I think, and it's too bad.

I also like many of the other scenes, but this time through I was struck by how repetitive some of the characters' inner dialogues feel. Maybe it's because I'm listening to them, so the pace is much slower than when I read the book version, or maybe it's just that Rand is in the early stages of his whiny-depressed-I-gotta-be-hard-as-stone phase. I look forward to the next few books, and hopefully there is less repetition. I've read them so many times that every time the characters describe how the One Power works, or what an Angreal is, I want to pull out my hair. And since I'm listening to the audio versions, I can't just skim through those paragraphs. I'm also thinking that if I had a nickel for every time a woman "folded her arms under her breasts", I'd have many a nickel. ;)

The story does move forward here in book 5, with Rand becoming more and more the leader he wants to be, the Aiel doing some cool stuff, and Siuan & Leane and Nynaeve and Elayne regrouping with the outcast Aes Sedai. I personally don't like the storyline with Morgase, and I almost wish she had been killed, or just faded into the background, because (SEMI-SPOILER) she seems to go nowhere for the remainder of the series, and I don't much care what she does next. And, in spite of all these years of reading and talking about the WOT series, I still don't know who killed a certain Forsaken at the end of this book, even though Robert Jordan said it should be obvious. Obtuse=Me.

Otherwise, though, a good, necessary installment in the series. Now on to book 6!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

O Usher, Where Art Thou?

My dad's latest column is about a subject that is very important to me: movie theater etiquette (and the modern lack thereof). I have taken to sitting on the back row of the theater every time I go to the movies. Not just because of the dizziness and nausea I experience if I'm close to the screen. The primary reason is that I have absolutely no tolerance for people's children and tweens and teens kicking and bumping the back of my chair throughout the film-- it's extremely distracting and aggravating.

And there are the issues of late arrivers, and the compulsive talkers who like to either narrate the action or provide constant commentary about the film. (Okay, I must confess, I have been guilty of this, once and only once. I couldn't help myself. It was my third time seeing "Twilight" and that movie is just SO bad. I was stuck in MST3K mode. But I humbly apologize. Also, the theater was nearly empty and I was mostly quiet about it... just... ugh... but I promise never, ever to do it again.)

Oh, and don't forget cell phone users. Really? In a darkened theater? Like no one is going to hear/see/be-driven-to-a-murderous-rage by your can't-wait-another-hour text or call?

Aside from the etiquette topic, the column also discusses the current barrage of advertising at the movies. I hadn't been to the Megaplex in a long time, but my husband and I went to see "The Avengers" for our second time at a Megaplex last weekend, and I was appalled at the number of ads before the lights went down, before the trailers and, horrifyingly, after the trailers! Talk about breaking the spell! I love the tingle of anticipation as the last trailer fades and the movie begins. The jolt of yet another two or three ads was disgusting. Captive audience, indeed. 

Anyway, feel free to comment here about what you read in this great column.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Rob Lowe

I first became curious about the book "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" when a patron in my same age group checked it out one day and told me she had heard that it was funny and really well written. When it came back in, I grabbed it and checked it out.

I was initially struck by how intelligently written it was. Lowe is honest without being arrogant, emotive without being sappy and weaves the story of his life so far with wit and wisdom and honesty. Even when discussing his almost too-pretty good looks in his youth, he is funny and honest. I always appreciate that over false modesty or serious self-deprecation.

My only real complaint is the frequent use of the f-bomb, both in quoting himself and his colleagues and friends. I begin to understand why Hollywood-ites think that word needs to drop from the lips of stars in every movie they make. It's because they all talk that way!

That aside, though, I found the book compelling and fascinating, as well as disturbing. The amount of alcohol being offered freely to minors on movie sets was appalling, and the lack of morality, physical and otherwise, made me feel sorry for Lowe and his friends. It's no wonder so many young stars crash their way into rehab. It's a life of debauchery: drugs, sex, alcohol and partying all the time.

Luckily, Lowe was intelligent enough to realize when he had hit the bottom and he put himself in rehab, which included therapy, and is now many years sober. His career has also recovered well, which is good to see. He's a good guy, with a pure heart. If you can stomach the language, this is a book worth giving a look. Especially if you were (or are) a Rob Lowe fan, obviously.

Oh, and I rather enjoyed the name-dropping in the book. It was kind of amusing to imagine this kid surrounded by current and future movie stars even before he made it big, and then the stories that followed were certainly entertaining.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Who Are You?

If you're new to my blog, welcome! Browse around, and if you like what you see, click follow, won't you? I'd be ever so grateful. :)

Avengers Review Take II

I woke up remembering something I wanted to say. Continued from the first entry about this movie... Sleep does wonders for the brain!

When it comes to Superhero movies, there are some very formulaic elements which have become cliche and almost ruefully expected by moviegoers. Whedon managed to avoid them all, I think. 

From This Site
For example, many movies suffer from "damsel in distress" syndrome, where the hero's love interest or elderly aunt is grabbed/captured/endangered directly by the bad guy. In "The Avengers", all the love interests are conveniently unavailable for perilous life-threatening. And it isn't done in an overly dramatic way, it's just the way things are. My son mentioned that he would have liked to see the men reunited with their ladies at the end, but I liked the fact that they weren't. It kept the movie feeling fresh, genuine and not syrupy.

Another thing we didn't have was outer-space alien goo. Most alien and sci-fi movies have an unbelilevable amount of goop, slime, and schloky-sounding muck. But our heroes fight aliens that are mercifully slime-free. 

In fact the only thing I can think of that is remotely cliche about this movie is that the bit battle/attack scene happens in New York City. Though, with 9-11 for evidence, maybe that's realistic enough to not really be a cliche. There was one moment, when a woman runs to look out the cafe window after being saved by one of our heroes, her hair is disheveled and her face is dirty, and she looks up and out with a look of awe on her face. I felt like I had seen it before in Superman, Spiderman and maybe even Batman movies before. But it also almost felt like a tiny homage that any comic fan would appreciate. It was short and sweet and over before I had time to process the feeling of familiarity.

Most importantly, Whedon never stops surprising the audience (or at least me) by doing the unexpected. The characters say and do things that are both natural and real and completely surprising. That makes a movie move so much faster and keeps you riveted, waiting to see what will happen next. I don't want to give anything away, so I can't say much about this, but more than once Loki has confrontations that end in completely unexpected ways. Brilliant.
From This Site
If I didn't say it last night, let me say it now, "The Avengers" is the best movie I've seen in a very long time and I think Joss Whedon is a genius. Fa-bu-lous. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Like a Girl in an Eye Candy Shop

Wow. Just.. wow.
Logo Image From This Site
I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness that is "The Avengers".

Where to begin?

Story: The fantastic script was both written and masterfully directed by Joss Whedon. Winding these various heroes' stories and back stories together was no small feat. He far exceeded my already high expectations for this story. I was actually nervous that I would be disappointed because I was looking forward to this film so much. He truly surpassed what I was hoping for. Whedon blended together wit, humor, laugh-out-loud comedic moments with a deeply disturbed Loki, scary alien baddies and hearth-thumping battle and hand-to-hand combat scenes (thankfully, with no shakey-cam or extreme close-up cheater shots).

Characters: (Following images taken from HERE )
Thor- I love Thor. He may well be my favorite of the group. He and his blue eyes were amazing in this movie-- dare I say I liked Chris Hemsworth even more this time around? He was funny, smart, and seemed a lot more comfortable both in character and wielding his hammer. And those muscles... wow.
Captain America- Adorable. His solo film was great, but I loved him here even more. Chris Evans just gets better and better. He looks great, the new costume is fantastic, and his sincere-good-boy character is authentic and sweet. He is a fearless, calming force on the team. I thought his character development was great, and his humorous moments were flawless.
Iron Man- Good old Tony Stark returns, full of clever quips, smart-aleck remarks and genius intelligence. He is funnier than ever, brave and stout-hearted. He likes to stir up trouble with his teammates, but comes through when he's needed. I always enjoy his scenes with Pepper Potts, and their two short scenes in this movie were perfect. I like how in each successive movie, his Iron Man suit deployment is improved and enhanced. Clever technology keeps us coming back for more.
Hulk- I've never really liked the Hulk much. His story is so sad and though I enjoyed "The Incredible Hulk" and Edward Norton's turn as Bruce Banner and the "big green rage machine", I wasn't really sure what to expect from Ruffalo. I was floored. In my opinion, Hulk steals the show. I don't want to say more- no spoilers from me, but he is excellent.
Black Widow- I didn't really like Scarlett Johanssen in this role in "Iron Man 2". I felt like she had some good fight choreography, but most of her stuff involved flashy posing for the camera and showing off her tiny body. This time around, however, she is given so much more to do. Whedon really fleshes out female characters well, and Black Widow is no exception. She has heart, substance and gets a couple of the films biggest laughs. I enjoyed the fact that she is able to emotionally connect with each member of the team-- this seems realistic to me. She's not romantically involved with any of them, but women generally have a gift for empathy, and I liked that she has a deep understanding of the men she works with. She is also seriously good at kicking butt, too; she's easy to root for.
Hawkeye- I really like Jason Renner, and I think he's well cast in this role. He isn't given as much to do as some of the others, but what he does is integral to the movie and to the team and I look forward to seeing more of him in this year's new "Bourne" movie.

Nick Fury- Samuel L. Jackson revises his role, complete with eye patch and long leather coat. I've never really forgiven Jackson for his terrible acting in the Star Wars movies, but certain members of my family tell me I need to give him a chance and that he's actually a good actor, so I tried to with this movie. He was fine. Not bad, not too over-the-top, and probably delivered. I'm not familiar with his character from comic book lore, so I can't be sure, but I was satisfied and not annoyed by him, so that's an improvement.

Loki- Tom Hiddleston returns to wreak havoc on the world. He is fantastic in this role and it is enriched and deepened by Whedon's script and Hiddleston's performance. Superb. I loved him in this movie.

Agent Colson- one of my favorite guys, Colson has some great scenes and, as always, dry, subtle humor that threatens to steal the scenes from the flashier characters around him.

Viewers leave this movie feeling so happy and satisfied, I can't say enough glowing things. Just go see it. You won't regret it.

For those sensitive viewers (you know who you are...), there is the expected violence: punches thrown,  cars flipping, explosions, arrows and bullets flying, etc. No more than you expect, though. As for sexuality, this movie is almost squeaky clean, the only exception, really, being the short dress worn by Black Widow at the beginning, but it's not so bad. There is very minimal cleavage-- most kids see much worse in the line at WalMart or even at church, I daresay. She does wear a skin-tight costume, but so do the men. I didn't find any of them offensive in the least. I don't remember any cussing at all...

I had many more intelligent and well-worded things to say about this movie, but my brain is very tired and I can't remember anything else for now, so I'll end here. Go see it. Oh, and stay through ALL the credits, to the very, very end. Not halfway-- wait for the very tail end of all the credits. You won't regret it.
I added more in second entry here. Clicky clicky!!
For more reading fun, check out this great spoiler-free review of the movie from MTV.