Monday, December 31, 2012

Clear Away the Barricades

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner and a movie with Big A. I loved eating my own food calmly and quietly while conversing with my husband without interruptions or trying to spell things backwards, in Pig Latin. I loved going to the movies without huge debate about what treats we NEED to take into the theater, and I loved sitting [sitting!] through the previews without constantly staying one step ahead of the Boredom Brigade.

And I loved getting to pretend to be an artist and an intellectual again for a couple of hours. Yes, I believe Les Mis to be a very well crafted, passionate film—but I really got into looking at it as an English major and used-to-wanna-be director.

Let’s have at it chronologically, then.

Not crazy about the CGI ship in the beginning, but I can forgive that much “we did it because we can do it.” The rest of the film stuck to stunning, necessary visuals—like how brutally they depicted the freezing, starving masses. [Side note: I don’t think there was a single drop of Visine on set. In fact, if there’s an anti-Visine, all the actors were on it.]

On the other hand, I loved that the magic of Hugh Jackman and film combined to let the audience experience Jean Valjean’s freakish strength from the very beginning.

I am also (predictably) not crazy about Russell Crowe as Javert. I blame the studio for this one. Someone couldn’t resist the highly marketable pairing of mega-stars from Down Under. To give them credit, however, I honestly don’t think the problem is his singing voice. The few times he let loose, he seemed to hit/sustain the notes. (I’m hedging my bets here as I have no idea how much “help” he had from engineers.) I DO think that Mr. Crowe had a problem performing Javert because he didn’t UNDERSTAND Javert.

The only time I got the emotion I wanted from him was around here:
     Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief!
     Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase.
     I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
     I'll spit his pity right back in his face
He could get a handle on Javert’s wounded pride, but not the character’s more complex drives, like his passion for order, including a firm belief that people are—and always will be—as they are born to be. People cannot change. (Remember phrenology was cutting edge SCIENCE back when. Think about it.) Crowe didn’t get that Jean Valjean’s existence negated all he had lived for, all he had known. (Echo intentional.)

Anyway, that was a biggie, but not unexpected. The additions from the book, however, surprised me entirely and in a beautiful, wonderful, delighted way. I LOVED that the film could give a better sense of what a “yellow ticket of leave”—parole—meant to Jean Valjean. It sucked! And that’s such a huge part of why he does what he does. I loved that we got to see that jack*ss stick snow down Fantine’s shirt. (Didn’t she look desperately cold and ill?) I loved that we to see Jean Valjean do his famous wall climb, and I loved seeing Gavroche’s elephant. I was thrilled to see the convent and Marius’s grandfather. I’m so glad the filmmakers took the time and effort to do these right!

Not at all to my surprise, I loved Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Well done, folks! Although I do wish they’d aged Jackman a bit more, earlier. Still, that’s a minor quibble. Set that against the fact that makeup, lights, or just plain acting did something amazing to his face during the new song, “Suddenly,” and it really doesn’t matter.

I was happily surprised to see that Sacha Baron Cohen stayed in check—I’m not sure if we should thank Helena Bonham Carter or Tom Hooper, but thank you! I enjoyed the Thenardiers, who inspired laughs and shudders without resorting to piercing eardrums. Having them sing while being carried out of the wedding was brilliant!

And, of course, I am very pleasantly and gladly surprised to have liked Cosette and Marius. Not the actors’ fault at all, but they are insufferably young, self-centered characters. I never liked them in the book, either. So there. Seriously, though—well done. Even if Marius did have a lot of that Luke Skywalker look—wide eyes, a half-open mouth, and an enormous lack of humor about anything. At least it made me want to smile rather than shake him. And he played the discovery scene with Thenardier really well.

Alas, poor Eponine! I don’t’ know what they did to you! As a matter of fact, perhaps they didn’t know what TO do with you. Eponine’s songs seemed lifted intact from a modern stage production and dropped into the period film. It was a little jarring to me. And I kept wanting Marius to support her $%#&&@# head during “A Little Fall of Rain.’ Hello! Chest wounds and crunches don’t mix!

Now I’m going to be TOTALLY unfair. I said it before, so everyone was warned. I had a LOT riding on the last scene. It’s my favorite in the book, my favorite on stage, and, oh, lord! They came SO close here. Total frustration.

I had high hopes—Marius and Cosette did well, Valjean aged, and he was in this gorgeous chapel, so the elements were all there. BUT!!!! Why, oh, why did you change the lyric from “It’s the story of those who always loved you. Your mother gave her life for you, then gave you to my keeping.”???? Why?

If we’ve spent 2.5 hours watching this movie and haven’t figure out that Jean Valjean only knew hate and now loves deeply, then you’ve wasted your movie. Geez. Show, don’t tell! On his deathbed, Jean Valjean WOULD care about Cosette knowing Fantine’s story. That’s the kind of guy he is. And then…


Oh, listen to your own lyrics, for Pete’s sake! “They will walk behind the ploughshare; they will put away the sword.” Newsflash, folks—Hugo thought the students, the leaders on the barricade, were lovable, laughably, angry, young fools who had to be admired for their bravery, ideals, and passion, but who went about everything all wrong. Jean Valjean was his hero—the man who, on the barricade, would only load guns, tend the wounded, and protect Marius from his own folly. The man who took every burden on himself in the name of love, the man of quiet, genuine charity, the man of…love.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Valjean, Fantine, Eponine—they got that; they did that. That’s why the women come to lead Valjean to salvation. The others are “climbing to the light.” But not by waving flags on a barricade, by acts of love. 

And the finale began in a CHURCH. Can you imagine all those ghostly figures joining Valjean as he rises from his deathbed (chair)? Picture a soft, pure, otherworldly light and all the dead pacing slowly out of the church, singing. Maybe the wall dissolves into light as they approach. It would have been surreal, beautiful, perfect. And they were so close!

Ah, well. I’m no Javert. So I give Mr. Hooper and company a strong 90% on the film. Definitely go see it!

For the record, I hope they win an Oscar for makeup. Those people looked so cold that I felt cold. Really, really good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Am SO Misérables

For the first time in a long time, I feel like a kid at Christmas. I hope it’s good, I hope it’s good, I hope it’s good….

Yes, I’m talking about the Les Misérables movie, opening Christmas Day. You all have NO idea how much I want it to be good!

I started reading Les Mis when I was in junior high. After that, I read it once a year. Yes, sometimes I skipped the minute descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo, but I read the book every year. I adore Jean Valjean. If my son hadn’t been destined to have John as part of his name anyway—well, he would have. Let’s just say that.

Like all my heroes—James T. Kirk, Patrick Pennington (look him up, it’s worth it), Sarah Connor (T2), Nathan Algren, and more recently, Katniss Everdeen—Jean Valjean never says die. Give him two bad choices and he will create a third, better choice. He’ll do it by sheer force of will, if necessary.

Now, if only I can will the movie to be perfect….

I also read Lord of the Rings just about every year. (In case you’re wondering, I read lighter fare in junior high, too—like Mary Stewart. I got used to answering the question, “Are you really going to read that WHOLE book?”) But I had such mixed reactions to the LOTR movies (loved the visuals, felt some part of the soul was missing), that I’m afraid to get my hopes up about Les Mis. But, of course, the musical is a BRILLIANT adaptation of the book in every single way. I’m a theater person; I know this for a fact. So one good adaptation on record bodes well, right?

I’ll never forget when I first heard the music. My English teacher took a tape home and taped her CD for me. (Thank you, Mrs. Hayne!) I was beyond ecstatic! I remember trying to explain to my busy, completely un-dramatic, pragmatic mother how amazing the musical was. “And then, the most important decision of his life and they rhymed ‘Jean Valjean’ with ‘24601’! It’s brilliant! It’s pure poetry!” She wasn’t impressed.

But it is—think about it. He embraces both his true identity and his mark of shame (his prison number) in two brief lyrics set to soaring music—the turning point of his life conveyed perfectly.

Then I got to see the show in 1988. Holy wow. I can still make myself shake and ugly cry just thinking about it. I loved the performances, I loved the feeling of being inside the music. I loved the turntable. I loved the barricade and the fake marching and I couldn’t wait to see how they staged Javert’s suicide and, wow! It was the pinnacle of theater magic.

The final scene of the show is my favorite (and the cause of most of the ugly crying), so when the ovations ended and the lights came up, I was a wreck. I could not walk—literally. After everyone on the field trip waited a very kind, considerate, patient interval, two friends helped me up the aisle. (To everyone on that field trip—I’m really sorry about that. At least we could laugh about it later!)

That’s my history with Les Mis. It’s passionate. So, you know, Anne, Russell, Amanda, Eddie, Samantha, and, most of all, Hugh and Tom, I’m counting on you. No pressure, but…

However the movie turns out, “remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

You Be the Judge

In the morning, a wife mentions needing to get her hair cut. During the course of the day, she makes an appointment for said haircut.

Fast forward to five-thirty that night.

Husband says, “Wow. Your hair looks great.”
Wife looks at him blankly, totally surprised.
Husband says, “You got it cut, right?”
Wife says, “No. The appointment’s tomorrow.”
Then it dawns on her…he’d made a mental note to compliment her on her hair, assuming it would be cut that day.

So, does he lose major husband points for not actually looking at her hair and/or not being able to tell the difference between before and after?
Does he win major husband points for remembering what she said all day and taking time to compliment her?

I guess you all know how I feel—I married the big, sweet, oblivious goofball!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When I'm Forty

The closer I get to forty, the less I feel like it’s the end of the world. After all, we’ve now survived 12-12-12, and even 12:12:12 on 12-12-12 (twice). That just leaves 12-21-12, and I’ve got a good feeling about that.

Actually, I’m looking forward to forty.

On a trivial level, it’s a nice, round, even number. There’s an uber-tidy geek who loves the number two hiding inside my cool exterior. That geek is pleased by the number forty.

Generally, I’ve had a lot of fun in the last forty years and hope to keep going with it! There’s so much I still want to do, like
  • Singing lessons
  • Taking the kids to see mountains, pan for gold, and see snow
  • Learning to shoot a pistol
  • Camping with my family
  • Making quilts for the kids
  • Reading LOTS of books
  • Going to Maine with my family
  • Fixing up our house some more
  • Publishing poetry
  • Go skiing again
  • Going everywhere Rick Steves has been
  • Go sailing with my husband
  • Do all the cool things around Sarasota that we haven’t done
  • Sleep late
 On a deeper level, I finally feel entitled to take up some space in the world. Since I was brought up the good, old-fashioned Puritan way, I’ve been respecting my elders ever since I can remember. When I was about seven, my mom explained the rules about who goes through a door first or gets to sit down first or gets served first, and I remember thinking that kids got a raw deal. The only ones lower on the totem pole than little girls were little boys!

So, approaching forty, I feel like I’ve climbed a chunk of that totem pole. The odds are that I’m older than about half the population. (For now, we’ll leave out the fact that I live in southwest Florida.) I’m an “elder” these days! Small children should respect me. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! My kids should hold doors for me, carry my packages, fetch me things, let me pick the first cookie off the tray, pull out my chair…oh, who am I kidding?

Still, if they DO manage to remember their manners, I feel like I can accept graciously. I don’t feel as much like a teenager masquerading as a grown-up as I used to.

It’s just nice to let go of that feeling that life is a pass/fail class with a lot of picky professors looking over my shoulder. It’s nice to think, “No, thanks. I think I’ll do it this way.”

At forty, I feel like I have a license to live!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Which I Love Christmas

This is a follow-up to the idea I groped my way toward by the end of the last post. I hope to be far more coherent this time…

I’m still working on my simplify-things-and-spend-time-with-family revolution. (Also working on a name for said revolution—feel free to help.)

As I said last time, I love my simplified (albeit by simplified by default) birthday. And simplifying my schedule has definitely paid off. I may actually NOT have an editing project going on this Christmas for the first time in…Oh, I can’t remember. (I have kids; I don’t remember anything.) And I still have yet to unload the monumental time sink known as—well, I don’t want to speak ill of any organization, so let’s just say it rhymes with Squirrel Gouts. Imagine what I can do when I regain that time!

I love Christmas, but I knew we’d have some extra fun this December (Tough Mudder and an amazing friend’s wedding), so something had to go. I decided not to make the 72 dozen cookies I usually make. Guess what happened?

So far, nothing.

Alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

I really do like making the cookies. Just not this year. And That. Is. O. Kay.

Big A. has been awesome and covered most of our online gift buying this year, but today I did what will probably be my only big day of shopping. And I enjoyed every minute of it. Why? Probably because literally two-thirds of what I bought will go to the little girl whose tag we picked from the Angel Tree.

I had the most fantastic time picking mix-and-match outfits for her, making sure that the sweater we give her will go with her Christmas dress as well as her jeans and t-shirt, for example. I loved choosing a trendy toy and an imaginative toy for her. I loved going through our purchases with our kids, removing the price tags and talking about how she might react. I even loved making sure we included a gift receipt for each item, just in case something didn’t work for her.

I’m so glad that wasn’t just another thing on my to-do list this year. I enjoyed my morning. And now I plan to sit down and enjoy remembering it. I love having time to count my blessings at Christmas.