Sunday, April 28, 2013

You Say You Want a French Revolution

It was cloudy and a bit cooler when I awoke this morning. I spent a cozy hour reading The Philadelphia Adventure and writing in my journal. It was past 11 when I finally started Mixed Fruit Pancakes for breakfast to use up the canned mixed fruit from the other night.

Ran Brunch With the Beatles while I had my pancakes and clementines. The final US-only Capitol album, Hey Jude, was in the spotlight today. It was mainly a way to collect songs that had only been released as singles at that point onto one record, including "Revolution," "Old Brown Shoe," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," "Paperback Writer," and the title song. I tried to call Mom at this point too, but she wasn't there. I figured I'd try again later.

Spent the rest of the afternoon watching Les Miserables. The only thing this sprawling, intensely emotional film has in common with 2012's other movie musical, Rock of Ages, is an all-star cast that knows how to handle the material and a genesis in the 80s (Les Miserables came out in 1986; Rock of Ages is set in 1987 and uses music from the 80s and early 90s). The story follows the travails of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who was sent to jail for stealing bread in early 1800s France. He escapes parole and buys a factory, where he encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a fired worker who is selling everything she can, including herself, to earn money for her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child; Amanda Seyfreid as a young adult). Valjean rescues her from the greedy Thenadiers (Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), then raises her as his own daughter. Now grown, Cosette falls for Marius (Eddie Redmayne), but he's involved with a student uprising in Paris and may not live to court her. Meanwhile, Valjean is still being hunted by Javert (Russell Crowe), a determined police man.

Wow. This was the most incredible musical I've seen in years. No wonder Hathaway and Jackson were both Oscar-nominated, and Hathaway won - they were amazing. "I Dreamed a Dream" is a killer moment. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent as well, especially Crowe as justice-obsessed Javert and Redmayne as love-struck Marius. The director Tom Hooper also did the wonderful The King's Speech, interestingly another historical story in which sound, music, and speech play a major role. He insisted that the vocals be recorded live on-set, instead of in the studio. While the practice hasn't been used often since the early talkies, it helps to give a feeling of intimacy and immediacy to a sweeping story.

This show does have its detractors. While most people label it as a musical, it's really a full-blown opera, with very little speaking or dance. This isn't music breaking into the story; the music TELLS the story. If you can't handle that or don't do musicals in general, this is absolutely not for you. It's also not for people looking for a more typically light-hearted, glamorous romp. This movie is grungy and, for all of the singing, a fairly realistic representation of its time period. They didn't win a makeup and hair design award at the Oscars for making everyone look pretty.

If you're a fan of the show, you've probably already seen this. If you haven't, or are a fan of any of the stars or like your musicals meatier and more dramatic, this is an absolute must-see.

I ran a few Disney shorts before heading off to work. Work was very busy early on; they actually did ask me to stay later, but then said I could leave at the original time. It was just as well. Two of the new teenage bagger/cashiers came in around the same time the crowds started slowing down. By the time I left at 7, we didn't really need the extra help anyway.

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