Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Les Miserables, the musical sensation


I have been mesmerised about Les Miserables (both book and musical version) for years and years and it's a delight to finally see it gobsmacking the world and receiving such global high praise. That being said, and because I'm nothing if not judgemental about my entertainment, I am now going to vent about it, good and bad, and everything in between.

Generally speaking, the movie is extremely well made, the cast is one casting mistake short of perfect (we'll soon come to that), the sets, make up, costumes, the sound mixing and the nip and tuck of the songs is all very successfully accomplished. For musical lovers there are plenty of small appearances in the movie that make our hearts an extra bit warmer. Like seeing Colm Wilkinson (the original Jean Valjean) playing the bishop or Frances Ruffelle (the original Eponine) playing one of the whores, among others.

I liked that so many things that are forcefully overlooked when turning a 1400 page classic into a musical were still preserved. Gavroche's elephant, the fact that he dies singing to spite the guards, seeing Gillenormand (Marius' grandfather), the change of address from the Rue Plumet to the Rue de L'Homme D'Arme, Fantine selling her teeth, Fauchelevent and the covent, Grantaire waking up in the morning and joining Enjolras to be shot by his side instead of fleeing and overall seeing so many characters that in a live musical would be only nameless extras (and still are, but in this format you can actually see them and recognize them (in case you've read the book or know the story in a bit more depth)).

Also, when filming a musical, usually the songs are recorded first in a studio and then the actors lip sync on set to that previous recording. What makes this movie ground-breaking is that it completely breaks convention by allowing the songs to be recorded on set, so that the actors are actually singing when they're on camera. That gives them much more freedom to act and makes the voice the actual lead (instead of a performer following the orchestra, the orchestra is then following the actor). Of course, it's not always as pretty as some traditional versions because again there is no pre-set to fall back on and not all acting choices are good and also just because something is done differently doesn't mean it's good (or bad). I do believe that this bold move was the right one because we're not exactly aiming at filming another pretty version of Les Miserables, and for the kind of honest and gritty portrait intended this was the best way to go.

It is a shame that the musical (in whatever shape we give it) can never fully portray every little thing that make the novel such a masterpiece. In an alternate Universe where a five hour long musical is possible I would've liked to see a lot that alas will remain unknown to the vast majority of people that lack the time and/or will to tackle the novel. The story of Marius' father, Fauchelevent's story and the whole convent chapter, the Champmatthieu affair, the episode with the Jondrettes at the Gorbeau House, Thenardier and Marius' father in Waterloo, the downfall of Father Mabeuf, all the other Thenardier children, the whole final chapter with Thenardier and Marius when Valjean's true valour shines through, etc, etc. Living in the real world, however, I believe this will never come to pass.

Anyway, onwards to the casting! Hugh Jackman, perfect, flawless, nothing more to add (though I'm pretty sure you can see some bits where he's mentally cursing Colm Wilkinson for all the absurdly high and long notes at the end of most songs). Anne Hathaway - oscar! Raw and uncomfortable, which in this sort of movie is high praise! Mingling beautiful vocals with an honest and heart-breaking performance.

Here I must add something! I've heard people say time and again that said performer sings better than someone else. Fine, but what people often forget is that in a musical is not all about the voice, it's about the overall performance. I've seen people with great voices humbling themselves and "downgrading" their voice in order to be true to their character and to create a dramatic (or comic) effect. Lea Salonga - one of my favourite performers - gave her sweet lovely voice a hysterical edge when portraying Fantine's despair and I love her all the more for it because it made the character so much more real. On the other hand, this also means that actors who are not singers can still be great musical performers. Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, or Dame Judi Dench's rendition of Send in the Clowns.

Which brings us to Russell Crowe, the only grave casting mistake on the entire movie (when even the smallest extras are famous in the musical industry). You may say "Well don't be so harsh, he's an actor, not a singer!", which would only enfuriate me all the more since it demonstrates how little Mr Crowe must know of his character, judging by his performance alone. Javert is a binary man. Things are either white or black, right or wrong, there is no in-between. He is a man guided by law alone, not conscience. He is methodical and mathematical. This must be reflected on his singing. The best Javerts I've seen all have great enunciation and are very precise with the musical score. They don't just sing like it's coming straight from the heart, that's for other characters! And even if you were to attempt something different with Javert, at the very least there should be some meaning behind the words being sung (but that I mean feeling and stressing key words for dramatic effect, and not singing like you're reading the phonebook!). Mr Crowe sings like someone trying to spread butter on toast with their voice, which is just the wrong image for the poor police inspector!

Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were good but uneventful (and by that I mean not a revelation since they've both done parts that were somehow similar). I would've like Madame Thenardier to be a bit more like Jenny Galloway portrays her, but oh well! Samantha Barks makes the loveliest Eponine, while Amanda Seyfried plays Cosette just as she is - a little bird, an insipid damsel in distress dull as toast (but unfortunately there's nothing to do there, that's Victor Hugo's fault - even though Claire Danes has managed to make her almost interesting in the past). Eddie Redmayne was a decent Marius and then surprised me and took my breath away in Empty Chair at Empty Tables.

And that's most of my venting. Though, if something else must be said, I'd add that even though in this sort of medium a decent amount of cropping is needed (as a cinema audience you don't need to hear a refrain twice and there's a lot that can be implied and so the lyrics don't need to be so obvious) and I've mentioned earlier that is was well done, still I do believe there'd've been some room for improvement; when chopping some verses out you should make sure that what you're left with still rhymes and also some songs were performed in such a natural way that made them sound a bit too much like long stretches of recitative (and I kept waiting for the proper song to start when actually we were already well into it).

But (if anyone is still reading this... if not, tough luck!) don't let me put you off the thing. I'm just picky and a bit of a snob! Go see it (it's only three hours of your life) and see for yourselves. I'm planning to go again, so it couldn't've been that bad ;)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Lets look back and think about all that 2012 has brought us (well, me).

In 2012 I got my first job since moving to the UK. Eleven months later I got my second job. I had driving lessons and, for most of the year, I had a car to drive. I went to my first English wedding. Celebrated two years of being with a wonderful man. Went to London at least three times (my memory's a bit foggy as to the beginning of the year already!). Saw two musicals. Saw Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton perform live, thus making an old dream come true. Celebrated the Queen's jubilee in great fashion. Had a romantic getaway in York. Lost a tiny bit of weight, did some bits of home improvement on the house. Read a lot (about 12,000 pages!). Overall I believe I got used to the way of living, the weather, the people, the culture, to a point when I finally feel at home.

On the other hand everything could've been bigger. So even though it wasn't a bad year, I still feel that I could be so much further up ahead, that I could've accomplished so much more. That I could've lived so much more! It wasn't a bad year, but it was a small version of it's full potential. And now, with all that in mind, cue the new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Readings 2012

  1. A casa dos espíritos, Isabel Allende ***
  2. War horse, Michael Morpurgo ***
  3. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer ***
  4. Down  under, Bill Bryson ****
  5. Breaking dawn, Stephenie Meyer ****
  6. Room, Emma Donoghue ****
  7. Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger **
  8. Um, ninguém e cem mil, Luigi Pirandello ***
  9. Matilda, Roald Dahl ****
  10. Há raposas no parque, Clara Macedo Cabral *
  11. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins *****
  12. The boy in striped pyjamas, John Boyne ****
  13. Catching fire, Suzanne Collins *****
  14. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins *****
  15. James and the giant peach, Roald Dahl ***
  16. A filha do capitão, José Rodrigues dos Santos ****
  17. The wise man's fear, Patrick Rothfuss *****
  18. North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell ***
  19. Eragon, Christopher Paolini **
  20. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury ***
  21. A pipoca mais doce, Ana Garcia Martins **
  22. Rio das Flores, Miguel Sousa Tavares ****
  23. Eat, pray, love, Elizabeth Gilbert ****
  24. Viagem ao centro da Terra, Júlio Verne ***
  25. The perks of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky ***
  26. The five people you meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom **
  27. Is it just me?, Miranda Hart ***
  28. George's marvellous medicine, Roald Dahl ****
  29. Bed, David Whitehouse ***
  30. The light fantastic, Terry Pratchett ****

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Confessions of a book reader # 1

Every time I buy a new book I think to myself that as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading I'll start on the newly purchased one. Yet, despite my best intentions that seldom, if ever!, happens. That is because by the time I actually finish the current book I've already been sidetracked into picking something else. And once a book goes into "The Pile" it can take ages until I feel inclined to give it a go (mind you, not because I'm not interested in it anymore but because I'm spoiled for choice, always buying them faster than I can read them). And that is why I haven't read Kafka on the shore, even though I bought it in 2006. Or all the countless Penguin Classics. And many, many others that seem to have fallen through the cracks and into book limbo. Sad, but true! Well, at least I have house full of books, and that's always nice. Even if it means I probably won't read them all. Or maybe I will. Fingers crossed!

Autumn. It's here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Those you've known*

I sometimes feel I'm carrying my dead with me. That the loved ones that are no longer with us are, in fact, still around us wherever we go. Not in a literal sense, more like an emotional presence they stay within us. The way we remember them. We die when our heart stops beating and our body stops breathing, but we cease to be when our loved ones die or forget us. That's when we become random people in old photographs. That's what I've come to believe in ever since I set my eyes on Vergílio Ferreira's books. (And then there's also Mr Pirandello's work taunting me with the thousands of similar versions of the same self, though that's a sequel to this conversation, not to be had today.) But enough with the post-modern philosophy!

My great-aunt died early this year. Today would've been her 85th birthday. Today - for the first time in my life - I have no one to wish happy birthday to. And it feels weird. Wrong, even. It wouldn't be so sad if the family had carried on, but that's the thing about my family; Fate seems determined to have us extinct! Right now, biologically speaking, I'm the only individual capable of breeding (which is a bit of a daunting burden to grow up with), it all narrows down to me and it feels unfair, to grow up so close to extinction. But I digress...

The point is I miss her terribly. I keep picking up the phone only to realize a second later that no one would answer that call. And it comforting to at least feel her with me whenever it happens. To know what she would've said or how she would've handled certain situations I come across in my life. I have her with me and I don't have to let go of that for as long as I breathe. She will be remembered. And if/when I have kids of my own I will point out who she was in old pictures. And they will hear stories of her and know how much she mattered. At least to me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

We are all infinite

So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.

The perks of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The book of simples

When I was about twelve or thirteen and about to enter another special level of a complicated existence (those first steps into womanhood) my dad - the ever so blunt person that he is - offered me a book about making daily life simpler. Now this book (whose title in English completely eludes me) became a bible to me. I devoured it page after page, again and again. I underlined it and memorised entire sections of it. It had all sorts of cute little ideas to save money and time and appreciate all the blessings in your life, big and small. And to me, prisoner of my own age, it was like looking through a window into my future life, into all the neat ideas I could incorporate into my mature and independent life (once I had one, that is!). I dreamed of following most of the book's suggestions, as soon as I could manage. All of this - it goes without saying - helped me envision a very wise and practical and independent future me (whom I still waiting to become...) and it became a sort of security blanket. It was alright if something happened to make me cry because I had my book and in the future - in a time when life would truly be my own - I would be that person. As soon as I could have my own place the book would be the first thing to be packed. Or so I thought.

Now, more than a year after I've moved in, I've thought about the book for the very first time in a few years. It wasn't the first thing to be packed nor was it even on the second wave of possessions to arrive chez nous. In fact, it's still in my old bedroom in the country I've left behind. And it amazes me that it never even crossed my mind to bring it. I guess I don't really need it anymore. Because I have new ideas and tips of my own and I have someone else to share everything with. I can still be the person who has a box of tissues full of carrier bags in the car or the person who fills the sink with steaming hot water when entertaining (so that the dirty dishes and pots and pans become easier to clean afterwards) and I still want to bring the book over, it's just not my bible anymore. I'm grateful for what it meant for me (a liferaft to keep me from drowing in the sea of my own despair and misery) but I'm also glad that I didn't even think of it during the whole moving in process (and Lord knows there was loads of time for it to pop into my head... over a year of it, in fact!). And maybe I'm closer to the person I've been wanting (and waiting) to become for such a long, long time. And ain't that a happy thought?

Friday, September 07, 2012

One year and good things in store!

Exactly 15 days ago I celebrated my first year since I moved to the UK. As such an important milestone approached (the first of many anniversaries in the UK, or so I hope) I began to look back at the past year and I'm glad to say I'm proud of what I accomplished. True, I could've done a lot more - as indeed I had planned to - but that's the thing about life; you plan and you plan and you plan and sometimes when it's time to actually start living you realize that your carefully laid out plans simply don't apply anymore. You think of all the things you want to accomplish and then you open the door to the outside world and life kicks you in the nuts. I didn't fully realize the impact that being a foreigner would have on me. I thought I would get over it faster. I thought it wouldn't matter that much if I couldn't see in the sun for a few days. I didn't realize my own brother wouldn't recognize me when I finally went back to Portugal. I gathered recipes for weeks before I first left and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to make them here for lack of certain ingredients. And so it was that even though I had been preparing for the big move for a year I was caught off guard.

And now a year has gone by and even though I'm not exactly where I started, I'm also not as further along as I wanted to be. And that's fine. I needed more time and I'm at peace with it. And now that I'm back I intend to speed up to cruising speed and get on with my future. I've made my resolutions for my second year as a UK resident and I intend to do my best to make every single one of them come true (or as many as I can). I'm on my way to finding a job, even if it's not the dream job yet. I'm losing weight (at long last). And as soon as that can be granted then heaps of other good things will follow. In the meantime I'm finally taking some pleasure in my yoga practices and I've been doing some different readings that have allowed me to have this sort of yogic peacefulness and mindfulness about my life and future. I think I'm somewhere in a pre-bliss state. And I think I'd like to find out more about it. Anyway, folks, good things ahead!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Same meerkat here

Before deciding to move to the UK I used to dance a lot. And sing a lot. And go out a lot. And two years later it all seems like a lifetime ago. People sometimes look at me funny and ask me why have I stopped doing all those things and say I've become a different person. I beg to differ.

To my great joy (and sometimes misfortune) I have been blessed with an eclectic taste, such as it's impossible to feed appropriately with just 24 hour days. This means that I juggle as many hobbies as I can with whatever amount of free time that I have. During my BA I could have it all, granted that I only saved six hours for sleep each night. During my MA I had to drop most of the dance classes and stop going out altogether or risk failing my exams. And now I've moved to a foreign country.

Right now I'm focusing on gathering everything that I need to succeed professionally and as an emigrant. Until I'm satistied on that respect I have no intention of indulging in dancing or singing. Because I won't settle for what I can scrape by right now. Dancing and singing are my fix and if I can't devote myself as I want to now then I'd rather not have it at all and restart in a few years.

And as I mentioned earlier, I don't exactly lack hobbies, so I'm still very entertained. I've devoted most of last year to my love of cinema and my passion for books. Also I've been doing something I've always wanted to but never had a partner for: card games and board games. And I'm loving it. Also there's still the novelty of having our own place, so all in all I feel pretty busy!

I don't think of myself as a different person (that is if you subtract all the madness that comes with being abroad), I'm just trying to adjust to my new country and trying to settle as best I can. I guess what I'm trying to say is that in life you simply can't have everything and if I can't (or rather won't) have my fix and my old hobbies, then I'll choose to be glad for all the other hobbies and things that I can have. And isn't that the wisest, healthiest approach?