Monday, March 25, 2013

Les Misérables

Valjean, young Cosette and Fantine doing a hell of a lot more smiling than they did in the movie.

Les Misérables is the reason why I love musical theater. It isn't just because of catchy, good songs and lyrics. Nor is it because of my near-crippling obsession with the show that I had through high school.

No, Les Misérables encapsulates everything that works in musical theater. You see, story-telling is very subjective depending on the medium. This is why a great book sucks as a movie. They are different mediums and the same story cannot be told in the same way.

However, musical theater is a bit unique in how it can tell a story and, as such, it can adapt much more than a movie can. Seriously, think about all of the shitty exposition scenes that you've seen in a movie that don't make sense with crap dialogue and ruin the mood and momentum of the story. But in a musical, you can have a single song set up exposition, mood and change the entire theme by one character and it will fit perfectly in place. If it was done by Sondheim, it's also probably uptempo.

But think about it, in musical theater and opera, a character can describe exactly what they feel, think, plan, fear and how whatever just happened affects them in a simple song. However, in a movie, you get clumsy scenes where you get unnatural dialogue and exposition to set up the next act. This is why every single movie version of Les Misérables has failed to cover anywhere near the scope of Victor Hugo's novel. Each movie focused on a single specific theme of the book and kept out so much more of the story creating a hollow experience for those familiar with Hugo's work. Now, granted, the musical doesn't cover everything, but it touches on so much more than any movie. A three and a half minute song can cover, in more depth, than what a half hour scene in a movie can.

Hugo wrote Les Misérables in five volumes. The first of which was Fantine. This would be a movie in and of itself to cover. However, with well-crafted songs, you get the depth and emotion of the story in 15 minutes in the musical. And those fifteen minutes carries more pathos with it than a movie can. Music moves us. It enhances the emotional range and storytelling as well. Fantine was written to show the unfair treatment of women in Hugo's time. While I am not a huge fan of her songs, I still have to say that the musical does an admirable job, in just a couple of songs, of bringing forth Hugo's entire point of the volume.

Anyhow, enough of my licking musical theater's asshole, as sweet as it may be. What did I think of the movie?

I worried going into it. Javert is my favorite musical character and probably one of my all-time favorite literary characters. And instead of some Broadway powerhouse singing his part, they got Russell Crowe. However, despite my reservations, Crowe did alright. I wasn't blown away by him and he never quite rose to the power the role calls for, but he was passable and didn't make me cringe too much.

However, what I did like was the direction for Javert. Director Tom Hooper did a couple of beautiful little things. First, when Javert confronts Valjean after Fantine's death, Valjean escapes by jumping from the window into the river. Javert balks at pursuit. This sets up his inability to swim, which eventually will be his method of suicide. When he sings Stars, he walks along the edge of the building over the city below. He is sure-footed and strong and each step is a stride with confidence. Again, this contrasts his death where he walks along the edge of the river, his footsteps are no longer strong and confident and he takes his own life.

Though speaking of the Javert-Valjean Confrontation song, they removed one of Valjean's verses, where he sings that he's a stronger man by far and if he has to kill Javert he will to save Cosette. I'm certain that this was removed to make Valjean seem "nicer" and therefore more sympathetic. But there is something interestingly odd about movie-goer in contrast to theater-goers where movie-goers need their heroes more "pure". Think about how a lot of the biting lyrics were removed from the movie version of Evita.

One of my biggest gripes with the movie was that they allowed the actors to sing "live", instead of pre-recording and them lip syncing to their songs. While it enhanced passion and pathos in some songs (I Dreamed a Dream), what it ultimately did was undercut the score, which really is a character in and of itself in the theatrical performance.

Little things, such as Valjean's Soliloquy before he rips up his yellow ticket should really bookcase and match Javert's Soliloquy just before he kills himself. There is a reason why these songs carry the same music. However, by singing it live, Jackman changed the tempo and pace of his song and broke the bookcase emphasis.

The other problem with the live singing is that too many times the actors sung too hushed or quiet. The end result was that instead of a full symphonic orchestra belting out the music and enhancing the power of the songs, it was a rather muted score, often drowned out by the singers.

I could go on and on about Les Misérables and my thoughts and theories. Seriously. I could for a fucking long time. But instead I'll say it was decent and end with a few random observations:

  •         This version of Les Misérables completely altered the whole Valjean/Javert dynamic. Seriously, Valjean should have the beard and Javert has the sideburns. However, this movie they swapped facial hair.
  •          Marius's voice sounds like Kermit the Frog singing. Seriously. Think about that next time you watch the movie or listen to the movie's soundtrack. Sorry I just ruined the role for you, but you cannot unhear it.
  •          "A Little Fall of Rain" is the most fucked up song. I mean, Marius loves Cosette, but Éponine loves Marius and sacrifices herself for him. So, as she lays there dying, Marius sings about how he wishes he could heal her with his love and so on. Lovely little sentiment. But what would have happened if she fucking pulled through? He just created a rather awkward situation for himself there. Is he going to ditch Cosette for her, or admit that it was just a little deathbed pillowtalk?
  •          The corset for Samantha Barks was too fucking tight. Seriously. I get that Éponine is poor and should be thin, but fucking hell! I'll forgive any flaws in her singing to the fact that I doubt she could fucking breathe.
  •          Every single performance of Les Misérables I have seen, I have always wondered why Marius is such a dipshit and falls for Cosette instead of Éponine. I mean, Éponine has better songs, sings in a better range and looks like she's probably into much freakier sex than squeaky-clean, squeaky-voiced, dull-song-singing Cosette. However, I love Amanda Seyfried and as cute as she was in the 25th Anniversary concert, Samantha Barks and her micro-waist didn't do it for me in the movie. For once, I agree with Marius's choice.
  •          When I saw the movie in the theater, I knew that I would have to strategically plan bathroom breaks around my six-year old daughter's micro-bladder. I had initially thought that "Do You Hear The People Sing" would be a fine time. The song is a little repetitive in the musical, following just after "Red and Black". So I was ready to run her out, but damn, if the movie didn't make that song really fucking rousing. So, instead, Molly had to hold it all the way until "Drink With Me".
  •          While Victor Hugo's story is a fucking shit-ton of coincidences (Marius's father met Thénardier at Waterloo, Éponine growing up with Cosette, every fucking person in the story running into each other throughout France making me think that France is the size of a fucking broomcloset), the movie left in my favorite of the coincidences as Valjean is taken in by the church's gardener, who was the man he rescued from being crushed by the cart. Things like this aren't forced storytelling, but rather are karmic cause and effect elements.
  •          Also, Victor Hugo can fucking ramble. If you read the unabridged Les Misérables then you'll be presented with selections like this: "And then Valjean ran to hide inside of the church with the cops right on his heels. The church he ran into has an interesting history..." and then you get two chapters about the history of the fucking church in the middle of a tense scene.

Though speaking of rambling and going on too long, I should probably cut this short.

Molly: (As usual, Molly is sitting next to me as I type this. Because of her age, her portion of the review will be in Q&A form. I will transcribe what we say and format it later.)

Chuckie: So, what did you think about Les Misérables?
Molly: Huh?
Chuckie: Les Miz.
Molly: I loved it.

Chuckie: What did you like about it?
Molly: I'll tell you what I didn't like about it.
Chuckie: What was that?
Molly: That people got shot. And also, um, that Javert fell off a cliff. It was on purpose though.

Chuckie: Okay, we'll get to that. But right now, what did you like about the movie?
Molly: My brain is only thinking of the Thenardiers.
Chuckie: So you liked the Thenardiers?
Molly: Yes, except for their rotten food.

Chuckie: Alright, maybe we should start from the beginning then. What was the movie about?
Molly: They still actually got the movie all wrong.
Chuckie: What do you mean?
Molly: Because we saw that, um,  Éponine walk in, then for another part she got shot when she was already in, but she was supposed to get shot when she was delivering the letter. That makes more sense, right?
Chuckie: I guess.
Molly: Yes, because how did she get shot before the war already started. It makes more sense if she got shot when she was delivering the letter. At least that's why my brain is telling me.

Chuckie: Alright, but what happened in the movie.
Molly: Um, Jean Valjean was in prison and all the prison people had to pull a boat and, um, Javert let Jean Valjean out of prison and everyone was mean to Jean Valjean and then he met the priest and the priest was nice to him and Jean Valjean, um, the priest let him stay at his place and he left so early and he stole his silver and, and, and the priest, um, gave him some candles. Then Jean Valjean became nice and he was the President.
Chuckie: Mayor.
Molly: Oh. Mayor. Then all the girls were mean to Fantine and then the girls started fighting and the mayor split them up, then the owner throwed her out and throwed her some money and then some people came and they cut off her hair and I don't want to say the other one. It weirded me out.

Chuckie: What was it?
Molly: I don't want to say it.
Chuckie: It's okay, you can say it.
Molly: When he took out her teeth.
Chuckie: Why did that weird you out?
Molly: I have no idea.

Chuckie: Okay, then what happened next?
Molly: That guy was being mean to her and throwing snow down her shirt and she scratched him and then the police officer came and they each said a story and they were taking her to jail and the police officer didn't care that she had a daughter. But Jean Valjean saved her from going to jail. Then Fantine died. Then... um... (she starts humming songs to remember) Then her daughter went to the well because of her babysitter and Jean Valjean met her and he took her back and he paid for her and she grew up and met... um... I forget his name.

Chuckie: Marius?
Molly: Yeah. Then he made a bear in a cage?
Chuckie: A bear in a cage?
Molly: Yeah. Where they made the wall.
Chuckie: Barricade.
Molly: Oh. That makes more sense. I thought that they were saying that they were making a bear in a cage.

Chuckie: What happened at the barricade?
Molly: Everybody died but Marius.
Chuckie: Alright. Then what happened?
Molly: Jean Valjean saved Marius. Then Javert saw him and let him go because he saw that he was doing something good and then he decided to go off a cliff.

Chuckie: Why did Javert kill himself?
Molly: Because he believed in the law too much and he thought the law was always right, but it wasn't good because Jean Valjean was doing good and if he was good, then the law wasn't good, but that was what he believed, so he decided to jump off the cliff.
Chuckie: That's why I love you, little girl.
Molly: It's a good thing Javert didn't meet the priest because the priest was the goodest person, but he lied. Jean Valjean really did steal the silver. So Javert should put the priest in jail for lying, but the priest was good because everyone else was mean.

Chuckie: Alright. Let's talk about some of the characters.
Molly: Wait. We didn't finish the story. Then they lived happily ever after.

Chuckie: Okay. So, tell me about Jean Valjean.
Molly: He was a good-slash-bad person. He robbed a house. He broke a window. He pretended to be a mayor, so he lied to the police about it, but he saved Marius for good.

Chuckie: Tell me about Javert.
Molly: He didn't mean any harm. He was just doing his job. Then he just fell off a cliff.

Chuckie: Now, I like to consider that the true emphasis of the story is the relationship between Valjean and Javert and Victor Hugo's struggles with criticisms of Catholicism. Javert was born in sin, being born in a jail, and he was unforgiving and knew only of rigid structure and law. Meanwhile, Valjean represents Christianity's forgiveness and redemption. He was cast in sin, but redeemed himself and was a good person. This conflict is the story. This conflict is also the take of two different views of religion.
Molly: Okay. I just want to be half-Canadian.

Chuckie: Um. Alright.
Molly: Stars, moons and suns and clowns?

Chuckie: Sure. How many stars would you give Les Misérables?
Molly: Les Miz.
Chuckie: Les Miz.
Molly: Fourteen.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: I just want it to be fourteen because it rhymes with Éponine. Also fifteen does.

Chuckie: Alright. So how many moons do you give it?
Molly: Sixty-one out of forty-one.

Chuckie: So, you give it twenty more moons than the most it could have?
Molly: Yeah.

Chuckie: Alright. How many suns?
Molly: A hundred and forty-five out of sixty-one.

Chuckie: And how many clowns?
Molly: A house.
Chuckie: What does that mean?
Molly: It means the numbers are in a house.
Chuckie: What does that mean?
Molly: Like a house number. Out of an egg. With a seven in it.

Chuckie: So, who do you think would like the movie?
Molly: Um, Edison. Maybe Mason. Uncle Neil. Uncle BJ. Grandmom and Pop Pop and Grammy and Pappy.

Chuckie: Well, I mean, what kind of people.
Molly: My family.
Chuckie: Alright. Fair enough.
Molly: Maybe Neveah. Maybe Ellen. Maybe Julie and Acacia and Amber.

Chuckie: So, who was your favorite character?
Molly: I have two. Um, Éponine and... um... the other girl.
Chuckie: Cosette?
Molly: Yeah. Her.

Chuckie: And what was your favorite song?
Molly: Um, the one where Éponine is standing behind Marius.
Chuckie: Huh?
Molly: At his house. Where she's standing behind him.
Chuckie: Oh. I thought it would be Lovely Ladies.
Molly: That's my second favorite song.

Chuckie: Is there anything else you wanted to say about the movie?
Molly: Yes. Gavroche didn't really run the town.

So, that's our review. So often musical theater doesn't translate to the movie screen. There is a different feel to it. Musical theater often breaks the fourth wall in such a subtle way that it isn't noticed. However, breaking the fourth wall in movies is often jarring and odd. Overall, Les Misérables didn't do a bad job, especially when you compare it to movie versions of Phantom of the Opera (terrible) and even Rent (which just doesn't charge the viewer the way a live performance of it charges the audience). Still, considering how hesitant I was with everything that could have been done wrong with this attempt of translation, I suppose I'm not disappointed with the result.

I'd give the movie version of Les Misérables four stars out of five. While Crowe doesn't exactly pull off the vocals needed for the role, the symbolism and directing of the character save him from falling into unforgivable mediocrity. He still has presence, though it is just not with his voice. Still, I would have given the movie another half-star if they fully committed to their apparent casting desires and replaced Marius with a muppet.

When we first saw the movie in the theater, Molly had already become familiar with the soundtrack and we had to keep shutting her up from belting out the songs along with the performance. Her favorite song at the time was "Lovely Ladies" and when Fantine sells herself for sex to the captain in her first viewing, she asked me in the theater what they were doing. I figured the movie theater on Christmas day wasn't the best place for this conversation and I distracted and avoided the question like any good parent knows how to do. Then, watching it at home on Blu-Ray, she asked me again during that scene and I balked and I told her, "Hold on, I really like this next song" and distracted her. Upon her next viewing of it (she's been obsessively watching it on her iPod), she brought it over to me and asked what they were doing again. Exasperated, I told her, "Fantine sold herself to him for sex" and Molly seemed to finally get it as she said, "Oooooooh!" then went back to watching it.

I'm a little afraid to ask her if she knows what that meant since it all seemed to click so well for her.

Molly gives the movie fourteen stars because it rhymes with Éponine. She also gives is sixty-one out of forty-one moons, a hundred and forty-five out of sixty-one suns and a clown with a house number out of an egg with seven in it. She also has a deep understanding of the depth of the character Javert and the struggles that he has with morality versus law and the ultimate conundrum that it presents and his inability to grasp how he can live in a world where the law may not always be just, even though she also thought the students were apparently putting a bear in a cage to protest the King's policies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Bill S. Preston, Esquire (left) and Ted Theodore Logan (right).

It's not really a secret that I am obsessed with time travel and time travel stories. I can't blame all of it on reading Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. A big part of it probably stems from an early introduction to watching the original Doctor Who series on PBS. When I was 13 or 14 I went to my first fandom convention. It was a Creation Doctor Who convention. I also had a Peter Davidson/Fifth Doctor costume. So, yes. I nerded early and I nerded hard.

Actually, come to think of it, many of my present day interests and likes were shaped by what I used to find on PBS. That's where I watched Doctor Who, Faulty Towers, Monty Python, Nova and tons of other things. Fuck. I should probably renew old pledges and get me a tote bag.

Anyhow, time travel stories have always interested me and I base my life around the premise that at one point in time I may gain access to a time machine. First of all, I have made a solemn vow to myself that I will never visit myself with a time machine. You see, without this promise I as soon as I had access to a time machine, I would invariably go back to an earlier version of myself and give it to me, thus prolonging the amount of time I had it. However, since I have yet to give myself a time machine, I can rule out that I never will get one and thus I would be disappointed. However, by promising that I'd never visit myself, I give myself just enough uncertainty that perhaps I will one day get a time machine, thus I always have hope. Also, very early in our relationship, I made my wife promise to never tell me if an older version of myself ever showed up from the future to have tons of kinky sex with her. Thus, I leave the possibility that at some point in time I may get a time machine and can have lots of crazy sex with a young version of my wife.

Though I suppose I also have created the possibility that some old guy who vaguely looks like me has been secretly banging my wife for years now, but it's still worth it to leave the possibility that I may get a time machine open.

But anyway, Molly loves time travel stories and watches Doctor Who faithfully with us. We have more toy sonic screwdrivers in our house than real screwdrivers (which is occasionally annoying when I have to fix something) and we also have a remote control K-9 unit. When Molly was two, she got a kitchen set for Christmas and I turned the box into a cardboard TARDIS. That thing got more playtime than the kitchen set until it finally fell apart.
Molly's first TARDIS.
So I figured that it was finally time for Molly to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. She was ready. Bill and Ted came at a time for me when the original Doctor Who was just ending and it was a surprisingly fun and satisfying time travel movie. 

It is legitimately funny and it still holds up. Watching it again after so many years has rekindled my long-standing crush on Joan of Arc (who was also the guitarist for the Go-Go's). Basically, the plot and everything is rather silly, but it also is possibly the best film representation of a pre-destination paradox that I have seen.

A lot of times when we watch movies at home, it's easier for Molly to get bored or distracted and want to do something else. However, not with this one. I laid on the sofa and she laid on my back and watched it straight through without distraction or interruption. And I'm sure that's because of the time travel. Her interest in time travel is certainly more proof that she is my child than any DNA test could provide.

Molly: (As usual, Molly is sitting next to me as I type this. Because of her age, her portion of the review will be in Q&A form. I will transcribe what we say and format it later.)

Chuckie: So what did you think about Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure?
Molly: That they, um, they didn't do the music as well as wished they would.
Chuckie: That's true. But what did you think about the movie?
Molly: It was good.

Chuckie: What was the movie about?
Molly: It was about, um, two things.
Chuckie: What two things?
Molly: The music and the school work.

Chuckie: Alright, but what happened in the movie?
Molly: They traveled back in time and they saw themselves and they, um, they were pretending to fight swords and one of them fell down the stairs and he fell right out of his suit when he fell down the stairs. And they were getting people from history.

Chuckie: Why were they getting people from history?
Molly: It was for their school work. That way, the history people could talk and they didn't have to.

Chuckie: Yes, I guess that's true. What people did they get?
Molly: Abraham Lincoln. And that guy on Mommy's shirt.
Chuckie: You mean Napoleon?
Molly: Yeah. The one eating a cooking.

Chuckie: Okay, who else?
Molly: Um, two princesses. And they didn't really know about credit cards in the other world because they were from the past and they, they, um... and they didn't know about the mall.

Chuckie: Anyone else they got?
Molly: Eh. Just some other guys.

Chuckie: So you really just focused on Lincoln, Napoleon and the princesses?
Molly: Yeah. That would be weird if they got Lucas Skywalker in there. He's from the past though, Daddy, not the future. Because you said it was a long time ago.

Chuckie: Yeah, good memory, by the way, Sweetie. So what did you like about the movie, Pixie?
Molly: (she laughs to herself) I just remembered a funny part. Where that guy says, "They do get better."

Chuckie: Anything else that you liked about it?
Molly: Mm. No.
Chuckie: So, we waited 90 minutes to get to a single punchline that you liked at the very end of the movie?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie: Was there anything you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: Wait, I just thought of another funny part. When that guy was telling his speech and said, "High School football rules!"
Chuckie: (laughs) Yeah. That's probably Daddy's favorite part. So, what didn't you like about the movie?
Molly: Probably nothing.

Chuckie: Tell me about the time travel in the movie?
Molly: Um, they tried to fix it with gum because they accidentally broke it because there were too many people in there. And they kept going to different places and that little kid... I think the word is "ditched" Napoleon.

Chuckie: How did they travel in time?
Molly: With a time machine. I think it was a TARDIS. But it didn't look like a TARDIS because it didn't have that light and it had an antenna instead. And it wasn't bigger on the inside, which was a shame because they had a lot of people in it.
Chuckie: Yeah. Their time machine was actually a phone booth. You see, just like England used to have police boxes in the 60's, we used to have phone booths in the 80's.
Molly: Oh.

Chuckie: Alright, so we've watched a lot of time travel stuff now. Do you know what a predestination paradox is?
Molly: Um. It's a box that has paradise in it?

Chuckie: Not quite. It is when something occurs only because of an attempt to go back into time takes place. For example, the whole reason why that future society existed was because they went back into time and gave Bill and Ted the time machine. Thus, if they never did that, they wouldn't have existed. So it was imperative that they went back into time to give them the time machine, otherwise, they would have never existed to give them the time machine. Got it?
Molly: No.
Chuckie: What don't you get about that?
Molly: Well, first I don't know what "occurs" means.

Chuckie: It means happens. So it only happens because they went back in time to make the future happen.
Molly: So why would they disappear and never exist?
Chuckie: Because if they didn't go back in time, their society wouldn't happen. But it must happen because they exist to go back into time to make it so. Got it?
Molly: Yes.
Chuckie: Really?
Molly: I think so.

Chuckie: Explain that back to me.
Molly: That they don't sew.
Chuckie: What?
Molly: You said they make it sew.

Chuckie: No. Oh well, let's try something easier. The Grandfather Paradox. We actually talked about this once before. Do you remember it?
Molly: No.
Chuckie: It is the rule of time travel that says that you cannot go back into time to kill your own grandfather because if he died, you wouldn't be born and therefore you wouldn't exist to go back into time to kill him. Got it?
Molly: I don't want to kill Pop Pop.
Chuckie: That's not the point.
Molly: Oh.

Chuckie: Do you get it though?
Molly: Yes.
Chuckie: Explain it back to me.
Molly: You can't kill Pop Pop if you already died.
Chuckie: Close enough.
Molly: Can I give it stars now?        

Chuckie: Sure. How many stars do you want to give the movie?
Molly: A thousand.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: A hundred.

Chuckie: So, a thousand out of a hundred possible stars?
Molly: Yes. And moons.

Chuckie: How many moons do you give it?
Molly: A hundred out of a thousand.

Chuckie: Okay.
Molly: Also, I want to give it two thumbs and a clown.
Chuckie: Are the thumbs up or down?
Molly: Up I guess. I don't know. Maybe one up and one down. The clown is definitely up though.
Chuckie: Huh?
Molly: He's up and doing stuff. You know, clown stuff. He had his coffee and he has a busy morning ahead of him.
Chuckie: What exactly is "clown stuff"?
Molly: The stuff you do as a clown.

Chuckie: Alright, so what kind of people do you think would like this movie?
Molly: TARDIS fans.

Chuckie: Fair enough, Pixie. Is there anything else that you'd like to say about the movie?
Molly: If I had a time machine I would go back in time so see you and Mommy so I would be in that picture with you guys. (She points to a picture of me and Jessica on our honeymoon posing with Spiderman from our honeymoon.)
Chuckie: You know that was from me and Mommy's honeymoon, right?
Molly: Yeah.

Chuckie: Remember we talked about the Grandfather Paradox? If you showed up on our honeymoon, you might not be born.
Molly: Okay. Then I'd take my time machine to Knoebels instead.
Chuckie: Yeah, that's probably safer.

So, that's our review. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is a cult classic and for a stupid, silly movie, it actually had some of the more intelligent looks at time travel's use that I've seen in movies. Judging how well this movie went over, I think Molly might be read for "Back to the Future" soon, which will make her mother very happy.

I'm obviously biased because of the time travel theme, but I'd give Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure a solid four out of five stars. I probably would have given it at least another half-star if it wasn't for the fact that this movie lead to Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal, which (spoiler alert), was not excellent at all.

Molly loved the movie and gave it one thousand out of one hundred starts, one hundred out of one thousand moons, one thumb up, one thumb down and a coffee-laden clown with a busy morning doing "clown stuff". When she first mentioned thumbs, I thought she was finally getting the notion of what rating a movie meant. But then the clown appeared.

A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure.
Only Urkel-O's beats this for stupid tie-in.