Les Miserables

I want to start off my review to address a problem with going to the movies nowadays, people who see films without knowing anything about them and then are audibly confused/disappointed throughout the entire movie. I had it happen to me a number of times and it always annoys me. This includes people who take children to really graphic movies only to have to hurry the crying child out of the theater when things get too intense. How hard is it to read about the movie you’re going to spend close to $15 dollars on? I had been looking forward to seeing Les Miserables for a while and was anticipating bawling during the many emotional songs but kept getting distracted by a group of teenagers who were obviously not expecting so much singing and so much sadness, and were giggling during all the most touching parts. Really distracting! Sigh, rant over, for now.
While there is a large cast with many plotlines, Les Miserables mainly tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackson), a man who served 19 years of hard labor after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. This troubled past hangs over his head and prevents him from finding work, so he creates a new identity and becomes a successful businessman. However Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to find him and bring the parole jumper to justice. Their paths cross throughout the years, but Valjean has more than himself to worry about as he adopts the daughter of a woman who was reduced to prostitution after being fired from his factory (Anne Hathaway). As the girl grows up she wants more than the life of hiding she has known for so long and falls in love with a young revolutionary.
Movie musicals tend to be a hard sell in the 21st century and director Tom Hooper made some bold choices that makes the film harder for one not familiar with the musical to get into. One being that the actors all sang live while filming instead of recording their performances and lip-syncing them later. With the amount of singing that goes on in this film (almost every line of dialogue is sung, with many 2 or 3 exceptions, it’s more like an opera than a musical) it would have been annoying to have to lip-sync that much, but it leads to rawer performances and while many will appreciate the emotion that goes into every number, there are many (like the teenagers sitting next to me) that will find the actors’ singing faces awkward and funny. We’re not sure to people putting their all into a song and the results are not always pretty. I was just about to let the tears flow during “I Dreamed a Dream” when the teenagers started guffawing at Anne Hathaway’s snot bubble. Also, this was not a time where people were polished and pretty, many of the extras are pox marked or have sores on their face. While realistic, we are not used to such ugliness on the big screen.
Had the interesting experience of feeling underwhelmed by many of the play’s showstoppers and becoming more invested in characters I didn’t like in the Broadway show. I particularly found “Master of the House” to be underwhelming, but I think that’s a good example of stage acting versus film acting. I felt Helena Bonham Carter (while basically auditioning for the role of Madame Thenardier for the past ten years) muttered her best lines too much, while in the play the actress always projects, ensuring the audience hears the jokes. Also Sasha Baron Cohen was the only one doing a French accent, while was a little odd, but I heard he ended up being sick during the time he was filming which effected his voice. On the other hand, when I was the play, I found Cosette and Marius to be a total snooze (Team Eponine!), I found myself being able to stomach their romance this time around.
One thing that is true of both the play and the film is that the 2 halves are so different. While many love the story of Fontaine, I am far more invested in the political stuff in the second part and first saw this in high school so Eponine is incredibly relatable. I will note the teenagers next to me were quieter during the second half (also, people are prettier in the second half, ha). Everyone in the political group is fantastic, particularly Enjolras the leader of the group. I really would be happy with a whole film just about those guys. However, seeing that the movie is so long and such a heavy subject matter, an intermission between the two very different halves would have been appreciated, though knowing today’s movie audiences half the crowd would probably get confused and leave. Sigh.
If you are familiar with the stage version, you’ll probably enjoy the film (unless you’re expecting it to be exactly like your favorite cast recording). If all you know about it is that Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman are in it, please be prepared for very sad things to happen to them as they sing and for them to not look their best and you should be fine.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog

During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Joss Whedon collaborated with his brothers (Jed and Zach) and writer/actress Maurissa Tancharoen to create something of quality on a limited budget that would not conflict with the issues at the heart of the strike. The series three episodes were released through Hulu for free and was later available through iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand, and Netflix as well as being released on DVD with a variety of extras including Commentary the Musicals, where cast and crew sang songs related to the DVD commentary. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day the series was a hit with fans and critics and won multiple awards including a Creative Arts Emmy Outstanding Special Class – Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, a first for Whedon despite his many years in television.
Through his video blog Dr. Horrible (as known as Billy) updates followers on his quest to become a member of the Evil League of Evil, his rivalry with local hero Captain Hammer, and his crush on Penny, a girl he often sees at the laundromat but is too shy to talk to. While enacting a plan to steal a case of wonderflonium for his freeze ray, he runs into Penny who is trying to get enough signatures to convert a condemned building into a homeless shelter. Distracted by the heist, Dr. Horrible appears uninterested in Penny’s cause. Suddenly Captain Hammer appears to stop the heist and save the day. He destroys Dr. Horrible’s remote which controls the getaway car, causing it to veer out of control and almost hitting Penny. Captain Hammer saves her by pushing her into a pile of garbage and she is completely enamored. Hammer continues to foil Dr. Horrible’s plans and gloats about his budding romance with Penny. Disappointed by Horrible’s performance as a villain so far, the Evil League of Evil says he must assassinate someone in order to join their ranks. Hammer is of course his target. During their showdown, Dr. Horrible succeeds in humiliating Captain Hammer, but, unfortunately, his Death Ray accidentally kills Penny. While, he has achieved his goal of entering the Evil League of Evil, he lost the only thing he cared about and the whole thing ends on a bit of a downer, damn you, Whedon!!!
Bummer ending aside, Dr. Horrible is a lot of fun. The music is great, makes one wonder if Whedon would ever want to stage a full-on Broadway musical one day. Neil Patrick Harris shines as the leading man. Fillion is a lot of fun as the obnoxious Captain Hammer. While Felicia Day is great in other roles, her character is under developed. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in terms of who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. We’re supposed to root for Dr. Horrible despite his quest of destruction, and the traditional hero figure is a shallow jerk. We want Billy to get the girl, but his alter-ego was doomed to spoil things with sweet, innocent Penny. A really great take on the sometimes predictable world of superheros.


1776 tells the story of the birth of America with singing! A hit on Broadway, it was adapted for the big screen with most of the original cast. Mostly forgotten now, it’s a guilty pleasure for my history buff husband. While not perfect or completely accurate, it’s a pretty fun tribute to our founding fathers and humanizes them in a way few representations have dared to. While the John Adams mini-series featured an all-star cast, William Daniels (Mr. Feeney for all you 90s kids) will always be John Adams to me, and Howard Da Silva embodies everything I think of when I hear Benjamin Franklin’s name.
The film’s biggest strength is how they portray these legends as real, relatable people. Thomas Jefferson is reluctant to write the Declaration of Independence because he wants to return home to his wife. Adams convinces him to stay but Jefferson suffers writer’s block and Adams knows only one thing that will cure it. In a completely fictionalized interlude, Adams invites Martha Jefferson (played by Blythe Danner while pregnant with Gwyneth Paltrow) to Philadelphia to help him “focus”. The sight of three founding fathers talking about sex in a fairly causal way is pretty funny and makes you realize, these were not Gods who walked the planet, they were men who, in addition to founding a whole country, experienced lust and had friendships just like us. Everyone else is wonderfully fleshed out. Adams is annoys every member of Congress, Franklin relishes his status as a living legend, and while George Washington never appears, his frequent letters to Congress paint his as a general crying out for help from his government. There are even a few names that don’t get a lot of attention in the history books who get their due in this film like Delaware’s Caesar Rodney. There are also some fun little bits like New York abstaining from every vote, much to John Hancock’s increasing annoyance.
The film also does a fantastic job of showing that the revolution was not easily won. Infighting within the Congress between patriots and loyalists is the center conflict of the film. We grow up thinking that Independence was the universal goal from the start, but there were many who fought hard to stay loyal to the crown, including John Dickinson who refused to sign the Declaration.
The music is a bit hit or miss. At times they try too hard for a rhythm and come off a little amateurish. However there are stand-outs like the somewhat silly but totally fun “But, Mr. Adams” and the super serious “Molasses to Rum”. The songwriters did best when they were making commentary. One number that was taken out of the original release by order of President Nixon was “Cool, Cool Considerate Man”. Nixon felt the song mocked conservatives, and he had a point, they do have those on the right goose-stepping at one point. While there are some good songs, the film as a whole probably would have been stronger without the music. The weak spots overshadow the film’s strengths.
If you’re looking for a fun film about the founding of America that includes a singing, dancing Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World, 1776 is a must see this fourth.


Broadway is currently filled with found musicals and musical adaptations of well known films. The world did not need a musical version of Ghost. But the big winner at the Tony’s this year was the adaptation of the little known but well loved modern musical Once. The extremely low budget Irish film was made in less than three weeks but charmed audiences with a simple story and a beautiful soundtrack. The film uses musicians, not actors to tell the story of two lonely people with a dream. While not a box office smash, it still won the Academy Award for best song.

When two nameless musicians (a Guy and a Girl) meet on the streets of Dublin, they discover they can help each other. She has a vaccum that needs fixing and he works at his dad’s Hoover repair shop, and he has songs that need her voice and piano playing. The Guy (Glen Hansard)is nursing a broken heart as his long-time girlfriend recently breaking things off, the Girl (Marketa Irglova)  lives with her mother and young daughter and has a strained relationship with her husband. As the two connect, they complete songs together and find the confidence to compile a demo. The two develop strong feelings for one another but her complicated family situation keeps them from being able to build a relationship beyond the music.

The film is a great story about having a dream and going for it. The title comes from how so many aspiring artists put off taking the next step in their career once this happens or once that is finished, but never get around to it and therefore never succeed. Guy is on verge of losing his chance when he heads into the studio and really goes for broke with this demo. There’s a very cute scene when he shares his music with his father and the pride on his dad’s face is so touching. Many artists never get the courage to even do that.

Hasard and Irglova are a great together. There’s a sweetness and an innocence to them, and a quirk that isn’t taken to the extreme that other independent films do. The shot of Irglova dragging her vacuum down the street is all it takes to make you fall for her. The soundtrack is amazing with songs that you lose yourself in, especially the Academy Award winning Falling Slowly. The two have voices that were made to be joined together and later formed the band The Swell Season. They also briefly dated in real life.

The Academy Awards are fairly predictable. The rare times they do surprise you with one of the main awards, they usually piss everyone off, but the Best Song award has been allowed to be the token hip prize. Once has a lot of positive buzz, but went largely unseen but when it was awarded the Best Song award, there was a wave of respect coming from the audience. Host Jon Stewart even insisted Isglova be allowed to finish her speech after being cut off. Adorably she only wanted to say “Thanks!”

The film is credited with being a modern musical. There was a movie musical craze around the turn of the millennia but this was mostly filming preexisting stage shows but films like Once, and surprisingly the South Park movie, redefine what a movie musical can be, by having the songs happen more organically.