Thursday, September 27, 2012

Classics Club: To Kill a Mockingbird

"Until I feared to lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing."
~To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 2

Scout Finch and I are almost as unlike as any two little girls could be.  The first and most obvious difference might be that at the ripe old age of seventeen-going-on-eighteen I no longer consider myself a little girl.  However, this really isn't a difference at all, because at the advanced state of antiquity known as eight-going-on-nine, Scout no longer considered herself a little girl either.

Secondly, Scout's a rambunctious ragamuffin.  And though I was never the most prim and proper little girl--nor the very model of a modern major general--I wasn't in the habit of sealing deals with spit, cussing about ham or beating up kids who said bad things about my father.  (Now, if I had had an old inner tube to spin down the sidewalk in, I certainly wouldn't have been opposed to that form of entertainment, but that's neither here nor there.)

Thirdly, Scout's family life is completely different from mine.  I have two parents and four younger siblings--Scout has a father, an overbearing aunt, an elderly housekeeper and a bossy older brother.  Her dad is a lawyer, mine a pastor.  She goes to public school (bored stiff, of course) and I've been homeschooled for the last thirteen years.

Yet in just a few ways, we're a lot alike.  (Wow, can anyone tell that I had to write a lot of compare-and-contrast papers in ninth grade?  Old habits die hard.)  We both have been reading almost as long as we can remember.  We both puzzled mystifying things out for ourselves and didn't bother to ask people about them when we were little.  We both have, at various times, listened to our fathers voice an unpopular opinion (and though I'm not going into personal details here, we've both seen the consequences of standing up for what is right).

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
~Atticus, chapter 11

If I'd been nine years old in Depression-era Alabama--or if Scout had been seventeen years old in twenty-first century [insert state name here]-- would we have been friends?

Who can say?

Nevertheless, Scout became one of those literary phenomenons to me when I read To Kill a Mockingbird.  She was completely and indisputably real.  Sure, there are hundreds of fictional characters out there who are likable and empathetic and even memorable.  But there are just a handful, when you get right down to it, who step right off the page and onto the sofa beside you.  (And in Scout's case, I doubt she'd bother to remove her shoes before tramping on the cushions.)

I read TKAM for the first time last summer, and had to force myself to drag it out so I wouldn't devour it in one afternoon.  I like my books long, and I like them to last.  TKAM is, sadly, not so long as I might have wished-- yet I really can't fault it for that, because Harper Lee told her story in just the right amount of words and stopped at the perfect time.  I can't ask for any more.  When I reread it this August (yes, I know... my Classics Club reviews are perpetually late...) I couldn't stop marveling over what an amazing book it is.  Seriously.  It is.  Books like this are the kind that all but depress me and make me never want to attempt writing again.  (Never fear, the feeling passes, and no doubt more quickly than it should.)

I sound like a broken record, I know, but in order for me to truly love a book, I must have a connection with at least one of the characters.  In TKAM, I connected with almost all of them.  Peering over Scout's shoulder and seeing everything as she saw it, being alternately annoyed and charmed with Dill, enduring Jem's know-it-all superiority.  Reverencing Atticus with something akin to hero-worship (the fact that I heard Gregory Peck's voice in my head every time he spoke may have helped somewhat... ahem...), feeling safe under Calpurnia's stern motherliness, standing up straight and resisting the urge to fidget in Aunt Alexandra's domineering presence.  Coldly hating Bob Ewell and regarding Mrs. Dubose with a sort of horrified, pitying fascination.  Pitying Mayella Ewell, too, in a way, and crying over the horrible turmoil poor Tom Robinson was flung into.

This isn't a book for the wimpy.  This is a book that will reach in and grab you by the heart and refuse to let go until you've finished it.  It's not the kind of book that can be put in a box. It's not a romance (though familial love plays a big part in it), it's not a comedy (though I defy you not to roar at certain sections), it's not a drama in the strictest sense of the word (though if you can make it through the courtroom scenes in utter calm, you are obviously a robot).  It's a book about folks.  People and how they relate to each other and the terrible things that one human being can do to another without even realizing it.  People who are cowards and heroes, tough little girls and determined old ladies, little boys who run away from home and judges with long beards who don't kiss their wives much.

It's a sad book, it's a funny book, it's a heartwarming book, it's a make-you-want-to-tear-your-hair-and-scream book.  It's a book that will (hopefully) make you sit up and take stock of the people all around you, to see them through the eyes of a child, to remind you of the first impressions you formed when you were little, to stop and think about how you treat those who are different.

It's a book you'll ration, so you won't read it too fast.  You won't want to waste a single word of it, or to let it end too soon.  It will end eventually, of course, and you'll sigh and go back and underline all your favorite quotes, and put it back on your shelf for next time.

Because of course there will be a next time. You'll be reading it again.

And again.
And again.
And again.

P.S.  Couldn't figure out how to artfully weave all my favorite quotes into this post, so I'll just slam them all at you in one fell swoop.

"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--"
"--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
~chapter 3

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
~Atticus, chapter 11

"Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father's passin'." 
~Judge Taylor, chapter 21

"How could they do it, how could they?"
"I don't know, but they did it.  They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it-- it seems that only children weep."
~chapter 22

"Naw, Jem, I think there's just one kind of folks.  Folks."
~Scout, chapter 23

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Victorian Fans

It is with great pleasure that I announce the formation of a brand-new blog!  My dear friend Lily and I have given some small assistance to our friends Fanny Thornton and Fanny Dorrit, who were anxious to set up a blog of their own.  We've helped them to choose a domain name, pick out a background, settled several squabbles over whose face should appear on the header (we ended up compromising at last) and even helped them take a few personality quizzes so their blog readers could get to know them a bit better.  And now The Victorian Fans has been made public so that all you lovely people can read what Miss Thornton and Miss Dorrit have to say.

Miss Dorrit is in the midst of detailing her family's trip to the Continent, while Miss Thornton bewails being stuck in the dirty, smoky hole of Milton.  Want to find out what happens to them?  Then head over and take a look-- and do hit that little "follow" button so you'll get updates!  (That was not a shameless plug.  No, it was not.)  You won't be able to comment, I'm afraid, as comments are restricted only to fellow fictional characters, but don't forget to take a look at the comments anyway to further your amusement.

What are you waiting for, my dahlings?  Go check it out!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumn Allure Fashion Event: Outfits Two and Three

I've decided to do my outfits two at a time to save space, so here you have Saturday's and today's.  I made no attempt at fashion whatsoever on Monday, since I babysat a one-year-old for a good part of the day and the old sweater I wore ended up rather... wet.  And chewed.  Ahem.

So, Saturday's outfit!  Denim, Khaki and Dolphins.  

I could call this "full-length shot" if I chose but I prefer to title it Paper Face On Parade.  (Because books are made of paper, you know.  It's a PUN.  It's supposed to be FUNNY.  Which means you should at least smile.


Khaki skirt - Goodwill
Denim top - Goodwill
Dolphin necklace - Outer Banks gift shop
White tank top - Walmart.

Everyone has at least one top that doesn't come up high enough.  I happen to have several, and for the most part I resort to using snaps or safety pins.  But that doesn't work too well on denim.  With this one, I could just sew a new button in place of the missing one, but I don't have one to match, so I usually just take the lazy easy way out and wear a tank top underneath.  But what about tank tops that are too low? you say.  Why, turn them around and wear them backwards, dahling!  That's what I did!

Tuesday's Outfit- Autumnal Ruffles (because that name sounds Romantical)

I didn't wear a necklace today because of deep, dark reasons known only to myself.  (read: I forgot)  Today the weather was that perfect fall-ish kind-- crisp and chilly but warm in the sun, so this lightweight long cardigan was perfect.  And it made me feel Dressy and Stylish, which are not bad things.  Not in the least.

White t-shirt - Land's End, thrifted 
Brown cardigan - Urban Outfitters, thrifted (cough... that's a theme in many of my outfits, so 'twould seem).  The sweater ties at the waist but that's the only way of attaching the two sides.  I didn't like the way it kept flopping open at the top (the perfectionist in me couldn't stand the sides being uneven) so I safety-pinned it.  Is there a statue somewhere to the person who invented safety pins?  There should be.

Denim skirt - hand-me-down from a friend
Brown pumps/loafers - J.C. Penney's.  I love these shoes to pieces.  Well, not literally to pieces.  But almost.

What have you been wearing these lovely autumn days?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn Allure Fashion Event: Outfit the First

Rachel Heffington (also fondly known as Jeeves where Anne-girl and I are concerned) is hosting an Autumn Fashion Event over at her blog, A Butcher, A Baker, A Candlestick Maker and I thought it might be fun to join in.  I've seen lots of fashion events in the blogging world before, but never participated in one.  Most of them seem to take place over the course of a week, during which time the participants have to post pictures of their outfits every day.  And for me, that's just too much of a commitment.  So I was quite delighted to see that Rachel had set hers up so that you only had to do outfits every other day, for two weeks.  That is much more my style.  (Ha.  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.)

Moving on.

This is what I wore on Thursday, September 20th, even though I didn't get the pictures uploaded until today.  That is the story of my life in case you're curious.  I'll just depend on you all to overlook awkward poses in the following shots, because I was trying my hardest to keep my face out of the pictures and that's not easy when you're taking self-portraits.

Pink sweater - Land's End, gift
Green striped blouse - Talbots, thrifted (for about a tenth of its original price... literally)
Pink-and-silver necklace - birthday present
Hair - grew it myself.  Neck likewise

Brown flared skirt - Coldwater Creek, gift
White ankle socks - Umm... Hanes?  I forget.  
Random hairbrush on the floor - property of my sister.  Ahem.

Pink hair-flower - gift (good grief, that seems to be the theme for this outfit)
Silver barrette - Walmart

A better shot of the outfit as a whole (without the sweater as it was getting too warm.  I did wear it for most of the day, though.)  You may observe that the hairbrush has magically jumped from one side of the room to the other.  This is because the above picture was taken in the mirror (yes, thank you Mary) and the earlier photo was one of those hold-the-camera-at-arm's-length deals.

I'm not sure if this is really supposed to be part of the fashion week... but I decided I'd share a few of my Tricks of the Trade while I'm at it.  This blouse is one of my very favorites, but it fits better in some spots than in others.  I happen to be one of those girls who is blessed with the waist of Grace Kelly and the shoulders of Tim Tebow (some slight exaggeration may apply in that statement), so blouses tend to hang limply at the bottom and pinch near the top.  This particular blouse fits pretty nicely almost everywhere, but it has an unfortunate tendency to gap along the buttons when I sit down sometimes.  Can you spot what I did to fix it?

Voila! A tiny snap!  Simple as!  It closes up the area that once gapped a bit between buttons, and it's totally invisible from the front.  Go back up and check that other picture of the blouse on me if you want.  You will not see the snap.

The trick I practiced on this skirt is a little more straightforward-- I just decided to post pictures of it in case any of you wanted to try something similar and weren't sure if it would look okay.  This skirt is one of my favorites, but it always had a tendency to slide down around my hips and I hated that.  I prefer a skirt to stay at the waist.  So I just nipped it in a little bit on either side, and since I almost never tuck my blouses in, the folds on either side are virtually unnoticeable.

That is, unless you're looking really hard and can see that I used black thread instead of brown.  Ha.

This is another garment with widely placed buttons, so I added a snap here, too.  I do hate gaps.  The bottom half of the skirt is actually sewn up along the buttons, so that there would be no danger of it ever coming un-buttoned and flapping open.  Horrors!

What did you wear yesterday?  Do you ever do sneaky snap alterations on your clothes?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Did you see them going out to fight?

My dearest Ally sent me this today and pretty much made my week.  No, month.  I was insanely excited when the first trailer for Les Miz 2012 came out back in May, and I'm even more thrilled by this brand-new (as in, just released today) sneak peek.

I'm not doing a blow-by-blow breakdown of this video like I did for the trailer (it's too long and too self-explanatory) but I will mention a few of my favorite things...

~Samantha Barks' "On My Own."  Perhaps this song should be retitled "Blow My Mind."  Especially the part where the director casually mentions how they bring in a 70-piece orchestra and the music just explodes off the screen.
~That two-second snippet of "Little Fall."  I was bawling in those two seconds, folks.
~Amanda Seyfried's gorgeous voice.  My reservations about her Cosette are no longer in existence.
~I also take back everything disparaging I ever may have said about Eddie Redmayne.  He's going to be an amazing Marius.  Amazing, I tell you.
~Anne Hathaway has my eternal respect.  She is going to be one of the best Fantines ever.  EVER.
~Russell Crowe rides a horse quite awesomely.
~Enjolras' pistol.  For some reason this was quite thrilling.
~Hugh Jackman's better-than-I'd-hoped rendition of "What Have I Done?"  Not as good as I might have wished, but definitely not bad.
~The tiny glimpse of Colm Wilkinson near the end.  YAY!
~The barricades, the barricades, the barricades.
~The way all the actors seem so excited and honored to be a part of this amazing movie.  That's really the best part-- that they're entering into it so wholeheartedly and trying their best to do justice to a story and a musical that means so much to so many people.

A few of my not-so-favorite things...
~We saw a lot of Russell Crowe's Javert but didn't hear him sing.  I'm a bit nervous about this.  Will he do "Stars" justice?
~The Red Vest of Power and Awesomeness still hasn't shown up (though I haven't given up hope).
~The fact that the movie's release date has been bumped forward to December 25th.  Why, why, why must they prolong the suspense???

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cranford (also known as Name That Period Drama Actor) Review

"It's all such a sequence of continual delights."
~Mrs. Jamieson, Cranford

This post is a study in procrastination, really.  The original draft dates from November 2011, and the amount of time it's taken me to dig it out again and actually revise and finish it is perfectly ridiculous.  After all, I do so love this movie.  Er, perhaps "love" is too strong a word.  Perhaps I've been reading too much Dickens.  It's altogether likely-- vulgar sentiment is so contagious.

Before I proceed any farther, I'd just like to warn you that you must gird your loins; it is all go in Cranford.  Pardon me, wrong quote--what I mean to say is that there WILL be spoilers in this post.  I apparently have a reputation for ruining Cranford for Other People (ahem, sisters dear), and I don't want anyone to sue me after reading my review.  (Really, I cannot understand all this agitation.  Are the summer gloves coming?) From what I've been told, my facial expressions, ill-placed sighs and inadvertent remarks of "poor such-and-such!" contrived to "give away the ending" to certain sisters of mine who had not yet seen the movie when I watched it with them.  But I must say, if I am a wild Beast I cannot help it.  It is not my own fault.

Moving on.

Cranford is based on a trilogy written by Elizabeth Gaskell (she of North and South and Wives and Daughters fame) and the screenwriters made some major changes from the books... but I can only applaud them for doing so.  (Dear me.  I'm turning into a most ferocious radical.)  I read Dr. Harrison's Confessions, Cranford and My Lady Ludlow before I saw the movie, and was thoroughly bored by the first and second.  My Lady Ludlow was pretty good but that was mostly because I kept mentally sticking Sir Percy into all the French Revolution scenes.  The creators of the Cranford miniseries somehow managed to take the best elements of all three books and combine them (with a good eal of additional content) and come up with a thoroughly lovely movie.

Cranford is one of those movies which has to be either adored or ridiculed.  I'm one of the abject adorers.  A certain member of my family who shall not be named is one of the ridiculers. (Apparently that's not a word.  I'm getting a Dreaded Underline of Red.)  It's certainly a challenge to follow, at least at first, and the multitude of characters (almost all female, at that) can make one's head swim, but if you stick with it, it's so worth it.  Each and every bustling little lady in the tiny village of Cranford was funny and special and lovable in her own way.  Take my three favorites, for instance...

Miss Deborah is just plain hilarious. Eileen Atkins gave her the most delightful blend of firmness, a tender heart and hilariously lovable hypocrisy. "I would prefer it if I did not enjoy oranges. Consuming them is a most incommodious business."  Her aversion to change of any kind got on my nerves a little bit, but hey, that's the way she is. In short, she had no nonsense about her--though something tells me she and Edmund Sparkler wouldn't get along.  She'd have him on a time-out before they'd known each other fifteen minutes.  Especially if he tried to butter her up by implying that she was his equal.  For no woman is the equal of a man.  She is his superior in every single sense.

When Mr. Holbrook first appeared, my
younger sister greeted him with the words,
"Hey, look, it's the old Hamley guy!"
Oh, and the way she had of reminding Martha to add "madam" at the end of every sentence was probably my favorite of her idiosyncrasies.  One has to wonder how often she would enforce that rule, however.

Miss Matty Jenkyns is... well, such a delight. Judi Dench is one of the most marvelous actresses I've ever had the pleasure of watching.  Miss Matty isn't as talkative as some of the other ladies in Cranford and so she doesn't have as many lines as she might (do tell!) yet you always know what she's thinking.  Just through her expressive face and sweet little mannerisms.  I loved how she was so devoted to Deborah even when Deborah was being a bit tyrannical (Two candles per evening! That's it!), yet was always looking out for others and being the velvet glove over Deborah's iron hand.  (Yay metaphors.)

Miss Octavia Pole was one of the multitude of familiar faces in Cranford.  I first knew Imelda Staunton as the flutter-brained Mrs. Palmer from S&S 1995.  What, Miss Pole was Mrs. Palmer?  "No, really, I cannot beLIEVE it!"


There is a random horse statue in the background.
We do not know why.

Um, anyways, Miss Pole is just... well, to use a word that's ridiculously overused, she's awesome.  "My father was a man.  I think I understand the sex."  Her anxiety to be the FIRST one to tell any exciting (or otherwise) news in town, her gossipy good humor and sharp tongue, her kind heart and unfailing sense of justice are all just part of the wonderful little lady she is.  Also her feathered bonnet.  Mustn't forget that.  I'd been rehearsing THOSE words all the way from the worsted-work.

As for some of the other folks I liked in Cranford (bearing in mind that this movie has more characters than two or three Jane Austen films put together and that I can't possibly touch on everyone)...

Is it just me, or did Mary give this dress
another character later in the series?
Mary Smith's character was nicely developed in the movie; in the book, she's a bit dull and (to my mind) serves only as a narrator for the story. She has no real story of her own. In the movie, they combined her character with that of a girl in Dr. Harrison's Confessions, whose name I unfortunately can't recall. In Dr. H, this girl had a stepmother who was constantly trying to marry her off to every young man who came along, including Dr. Harrison. The girl wasn't at all interested in Dr. Harrison--but unfortunately the girl wasn't half as interesting as Mary. So that plot point was really the only tie between them. Mary seemed very real and down-to-earth, a quality I appreciated. As far as her relationship with Dr. Marshland.... eh, well, I go back and forth on that one.  On the one hand, I definitely want to see them get together, (ahem, Return to Cranford!  AHEM!) but on the other hand, Jack's a bit annoying at times.  And too unrepentant for all the mischief he causes.  Also, he has horrible handwriting.  Not that this is necessarily a point against him, as I'm sure plenty of nice guys have terrible handwriting, but I'm just saying.

One romance that was incredibly cute, however, was that of Dr. Harrison and Sophy Hutton.  Dr. Harrison annoyed me in the book, but in the movie I had nothing but sympathy for him.  Poor guy-- from his unfortunate choice in coat color to his unintentional habit of attracting every female within thirty years of his own age, everything seems to be against him.  Yet he and Sophy are just... well, just so CUTE together.  I'm not really sure what else I can say about them without sounding like a sentimental sop... but do I care about sounding like a sentimental sop?  I do not.  Here goes.  Dr. Harrison and Sophy are a testimony to how true love can be such a gentle thing, a little sea of peace in a midst of bustle and confusion and misunderstanding.  Even though there are certain moments where I can't believe Sophy would doubt Dr. Harrison... if she were really truly in love, she wouldn't believe for a minute that he'd proposed to another woman.  But of course there'd be no story otherwise, so I'm shutting up.

Her bonnet is reminiscent of Lizzy Bennet's, is it not?
(Also.  Was I the only one who thought at first that Sophy and Ada Clare were played by the same actress?  Later, of course, I discovered that Sophy was Kimberly Nixon and Ada was Carey Mulligan, but they do look alike, don't they?)

As for all those recurring actors-- Cranford is pretty much jam-packed with them.  I love the "see who we can recognize in this movie" game, and Cranford is one of the best playing fields.  Willoughby as Sir Charles Maulver!  Miss Browning as Mrs. Jamieson!  Miss Phoebe Browning as Miss Thompkinson!  Angelina Ballerina as Mary's whiny stepmother!  (Okay, so that last one wasn't period drama... hush.)

"Gesundheit, Mr. Carter."
I still haven't made up my mind as to whether or not the viewer is supposed to like Lady Ludlow.  For my part, I like her very much, but... eh.  That doesn't necessarily mean you're supposed to like her.  Ha.  Here's yet another familiar period drama face, since Francesca Annis is well-known for playing Mrs. Gibson on Wives and Daughters.  Suffice to say that I preferred this role.  She did a fantastic job of portraying the ice queen that Lady Ludlow is supposed to be, and there were times when I just wanted to cry for her.  Whether I actually did or not... well, I leave that to your own imagination.  Those of you who know me well will figure out the answer easily enough.

And while we're on the subject of Lady Ludlow, let's talk about the other person in that picture.
MR. CARTER! *loud applause*  One of the best guys in the whole story... look out for spoilers in these next few sentences.  Why, why, WHY did he have to die?  Just when everything was getting so good, and he and Miss Galindo might have lived happily ever after and maybe even adopted Harry or something.... blurgh.  I know Cranford's one of those funeral-happy movies with a death every five minutes, but couldn't Harry's no-account father have died instead?  Yes, yes, I know, they had to move the story along and all that, and of course Harry wouldn't have come into his inheritance otherwise... but SERIOUSLY.  Poor Miss Galindo.  Poor Harry.  Poor dude who wrote "Elegy in a Country Churchyard."  If he cried half as much writing that poem as I did hearing it, it's a wonder the paper survived.

"Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere ...
He gained from heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend."
*bawls again*
Anyways, that part hit me harder than any of the other multitude of demises in this morbid tale.  Okay, maybe morbid is too strong a word... but really!  My eleven-year-old sister Laura was prompted to demand tearfully whether Miss Matty was going to die TOO as we finished up the fourth episode.

Moving on to pleasanter topics... I thought Jessie Brown and Major Gordon's story was incredibly sweet.  I would have been happy to see that subplot expanded upon, though I know they were running short on time.  It was somewhat hilarious to see wild Lydia Bennet behaving so sedately and with due sense of decorum and with pride.  (Deference and great respect as well.  Oh, wait.  No, sorry, that's The Lion King.  Anne-girl's laughing her head off right about now.)  And who'd-a thunk she could sing so nicely?  Or that Miss Deborah could play the spoons so well?  Moral of the story: everyone has a hidden talent.  I bet Miss Matty's a sword juggler on the side.

I'm usually not much of a one for plaids, but I do love this dress.

I've covered the sad side of Cranford and the sweet side, to the best of my ability, and now it's time for the funny side.  Because this film is the kind that you have to pause sometimes because you're laughing so hard.  
"Thank you, I'd love another pancake."
"That's your EIGHTH!" 

Really, now, how many old-fashioned movies are there in which you can find a cow in flannel pajamas?  ("Bessie DEAREST!")  How many will severely detail the proper way to eat an orange?  ("We shall repair to our rooms and consume our fruit in solitude."  *slurp*)  How many will be totally gross and yet terrifically side-splitting at the exact same time?  ("It's in the basket!  In pussy's INSIDE!")  How many will feature a poodle in striped changeable silk? ("Don't ruffle his hair! It took all night to curl it!")

I wish I had time to go through and recount every one of my favorite scenes in this movie, tell about the quirks of my favorite characters, recite every word of my favorite lines.  Unfortunately, that would make the post even more ridiculously long than it is already, so I won't.  I'll just say that you should not put the pastries to your lips or you shall choke when you hear the news I must report.  This is more preposterous and shocking than when the Wombwell lions came and the little child's arm was bit clean off! Are you ready?  Are you prepared?  Have your smelling salts handy...

This movie was better than its books.

There! I said it! 


I hinted as much earlier in this post, but now I've finally made the bald statement, and it feels so good to get that off my chest.  You other members of the Book Is Always Better Club won't black-ball me, will you?  But then again, if you allow me to do as I wish, I shall be in contravention of all polite codes.  What will people think of me?  And worse, what will be said?

Well, well, let me know in the comments if you agree that Cranford-the-movie is better than Cranford-the-book, yes?  Thank you.  And now I must stop my nonsense, as this is no occasion for sport.  There is lace at stake!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Light of Rebellion Ablaze in Their Eyes: My PO On the Les Miz Movie Cast

Warning: excessively picture-heavy post to follow.  Proceed at your own risk.

The first time I ever followed a movie's production progress was when Samantha: An American Girl Holiday came out in 2004.  I checked the American Girl website nearly every day, scrutinized every movie still that was released, watched and re-watched the trailer every time I was allowed to use the computer.  The Felicity movie came out the year after that, and though I wasn't quite as excited as I'd been the first time (was anyone else just a bit peeved that the Samantha movie didn't follow the books more closely?), I kept up with that film's progress as well.  The same went for Molly and Kit, and then American Girl stopped making historical movies and I stopped keeping up with movie productions.  

Then my eleventh-grade World Literature class introduced me to Les Miserables in January of this year.  I read the book.  I listened to four different recordings of the musical and watched both concerts.  And I thrilled to my fingertips when I found out that Cameron Mackintosh was superintending a big-screen adaptation of the musical, to be released this December.

That's only a little over three months away.  
Are you excited yet?

So, in honor of the forthcoming event (about which I am insanely excited, as you may or may not have gathered already) I'm dumping my personal opinion regarding the movie cast onto all you lovely readers.  Comments are always encouraged on my blog, naturally, but I would especially love to hear your own PO's on this topic today!

(Oh, and before I begin I should just say that I have mixed feelings about quite a few members of the cast-- I've compiled my own Dream Movie Cast, but I'm not listing those people here for sake of space.  If anyone's interested in seeing the dream cast, I'll make another post for that one.)

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Let's get this out in the open here and now-- I was definitely not thrilled when I heard that some random movie star was playing Jean Valjean on the big screen.  I'd hoped for a Broadway name, someone who could really sing and sing well.  After all, this movie is pioneering the new technique of having all the singing recorded live on-set instead of in a studio.  There's no option of having a voice dubbed.  And since Valjean's part is incredibly vocally demanding, I wasn't at all sure Jackman could pull it off.  I'm still not sure, but I'm a lot more confident than I was at the beginning.  Apparently he's played the leads in Oklahoma! and Carousel in Australia as well as several other shows in the U.S.  So he's not a stranger to the world of musicals, but then again, there's a huge difference between playing Curly or Billy and playing Valjean.  ("Surrey With the Fringe On Top" isn't exactly of the same caliber as "Bring Him Home.")  

As far as appearances go... eh, well, he has the starved convict look, all right.  But I've been accustomed to seeing more robust Valjeans, and Jackman struck me right off the bat as being too skinny (not to mention way too young) for the role.  Seeing production stills of him in full costume have helped somewhat, but I'm still a little unsure.  After all, Valjean is noted for being this enormously powerful man with strength way beyond his age (er, way below his age?).  He also happens to go from age 40-ish to his mid-60's throughout the course of the story, and from the pictures I've seen so far, Jackman doesn't look much older at the end than he does in the beginning (if indeed the pictures I saw WERE from the end).  We'll just have to wait and see.

Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert

Really, the big question here is "can this guy sing?"  Because as far as looks go, he is Javert to a T.  This is the man I pictured when I read the book, and even though Philip Quast quickly replaced that mental image when I saw the 10th concert, I'm still very pleased with Crowe's appearance.  But again, Javert is a really difficult singing role.  "Stars" isn't the kind of song that can just be floundered through, and though I did listen to a clip on YouTube of his singing voice, the song wasn't.... uh... Les Miz material.  It's one thing to belt out a rock-and-roll number with electric guitar in the background and another thing entirely to do justice to the "no way to go onnnnnnnnnnnn!" at the end of "Javert's Suicide."

I'm also anxious to see how Crowe and Jackman interact with each other as Javert and Valjean.  I read an article that said Jackman had requested to re-shoot some of the confrontation scenes with Crowe near the beginning because he was having so much fun hitting him.  ....Um, okay.  I'm really hoping this doesn't mean that they're playing up the violence in the first half of the film.  Doesn't "The Confrontation" have enough angry tension in just the lyrics to get the meaning across?  I'm not opposed to seeing Valjean punch out Javert, of course, since that's in the original story (even though I'm not a fan of violence in movies--had a hard time with that scene in the mill in North and South) but I do hope they don't overdo it.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Here was at least one actress whose name I recognized-- though from seeing her in bits and snippets of The Princess Diaries (and her role in Nicholas Nickleby, which from what I hear wasn't too accurate to the book), I couldn't quite fathom her as Fantine.  Then came the trailer, and I have to say I was MAJORLY impressed. Her voice isn't as strong as I might have liked, but hey, Fantine is supposed to be a broken character who's been completely trodden down by the life that killed the dream she dreamed.  She's not an opera diva.  

The only other complaint I might have had about Hathaway's portrayal is that she's not blonde, and the book very specifically says Fantine is blonde-- but Lea Salonga isn't blonde either and nobody complains about that.  She just has to have gorgeous hair, and from what I can see, she does.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Ah, yes, Marius Pontmercy himself, the heartthrob of the barricade, the guy who is reportedly so good-looking that all the girls turn to sigh after him in the street (according to the book)... played by a fellow whom my sister and I have rather uncharitably dubbed Signor Monkeyface.

While I still don't understand why one of the dozens of much more aesthetically pleasing Broadway actors out there couldn't have been chosen for the part, I'm actually really liking what I've seen of Redmayne's Marius.  In the trailer, I got goosebumps during that sweeping shot of him on the barricade, and the scene where he and Cosette meet for the first time? Cuteness!  In all of two seconds!  I think he might do a good job of bringing out Marius' youthfulness and naivete, something that's kind of hard to convey in a concert (Michael Ball was amazing, but he only had so much stage time to work with, and do not mention that Jonas kid to me at this time).  Also, he sings amazingly.  I heard a bit of a choral piece he did on YouTube and it was fantastic.  So "Empty Chairs" should be great.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette Tholomyes (Fauchelevent? Which IS it?)

Another blonde Cosette-- hmm, do I see a parallel with the 25th anniversary concert?  I actually don't have any problem at all with Cosette being blonde, because I pictured her as blonde when I read the book (though I've heard since then that she's supposed to be a brunette).  This actress definitely looks pretty and innocent enough to be Valjean's slightly airheaded adopted daughter, but the big question is... wow, you guessed it!  Can she handle the singing?  Cosette is a very challenging soprano part, and that ending bit of "A Heart Full of Love" is definitely not for a beginner.  Amanda Seyfried has apparently taken voice lessons and been in a couple of musicals (sing ho for IMDb, isn't it wonderfully useful?) but that doesn't necessarily mean she's ready to take on Cosette.  I do like what I've seen of her in the trailer, though it bugged me a wee bit that her hair's down in the run-into-Marius sequence.   Maybe the style's just meant to represent her youth, but it seems to me that a girl in her mid-to-late teens would have had her hair up in 1832.

(I happen to be a really big fan of Keep Calm posters, and this one cracked me up.  YAY!)

Samantha Barks as Eponine Thenardier

Words can't express how happy I am with this casting choice.  Eponine is one of my top three favorite characters in Les Miz, and it's really important to me that she be played well.  And Samantha Barks did an outstanding job in the 25th concert.  The only thing that would be better than Barks playing Eponine would be if someone put Lea Salonga in a time machine... ah well.  Anyways, I'm greatly anticipating this performance at least-- and hopefully "Little Fall of Rain" will be MUCH better than it was in 25th.  Plus, since the movie is a movie (thank you, my dear) and not a stage musical (thank you again, dahling, they never would have known that, what on earth WOULD we do without you...) and projection isn't such an issue, she might not be so tempted to belt out "On My Own."  *ducks as Samantha Barks fans begin throwing tomatoes*  Stop, stop, I'm sorry!  She's an amazing actress and a great singer!  I just felt that she could have been a little more gentle with "On My Own" in 25th, okay?  Okay. 

And while we're on the Samantha Barks topic, I might add that her obvious enthusiasm for the part is HUGE plus.  Did anyone else see the video in which Cameron Mackintosh tells her she's going to be Eponine?  That was pretty much my reaction when I found out she had the part... rumors had been flying about Taylor Swift playing Eponine, and, well, let's just say I was quite pleased with how it all turned out. 

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras

With all due respect to Victor Hugo and his preference as to Enjolras' hair color, I firmly maintain that Enjo is not blonde.  NOT.  BLONDE.   Nor, I might point out, is Aaron Tveit.   He's wearing a wig in this picture, and not a particularly flattering one at that.  Both amazing Les Miz concerts featured dark-haired Enjolras, and though I'm not going to go into a tirade about how a certain actor who recently portrayed Enjo would be SO MUCH better for the part, I will say that I'm not very pleased with the wig.  Or the apparent lack of the Red Vest of Power and Awesomeness.  (Let's just hope it appears on the actual barricades... these photos may be from "Red and Black.")  However, Aaron Tveit is a seasoned Broadway performer and will probably do a good job with his songs. Though I still say nobody does "at the barricades of freedooooooooom" like Ramin Kar--okay, I'm stopping.

For some reason I'm also slightly annoyed by the fact that Marius is taller than Enjolras... it could be the way they're standing, of course, and I do tend to be overly picky about things like that.  But where, where, WHERE is the vest of power??? *weeps*

Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette

Young Cosette really doesn't have a whole lot to do in the movie except look cute and terrified and squeak out a few bars of "Castle on a Cloud", but Isabelle Allen looks pretty promising and she actually resembles Amanda Seyfried.  Which is more than Mia Jenkins did in the 25th concert... she and Katie Hall look nothing alike.

Claude-Michel Schonberg has apparently written a new song for the film, "Suddenly," sung by Valjean and Cosette after he rescues her from the Thenardiers.  I'm hoping it's up to par with the other songs in the film-- I'm sure it will be, though, since the original composer is doing it.  Maybe this picture is from that scene?

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche Thenardier

I can't say I'm completely thrilled with this casting choice, because Huttlestone strikes me as being a little too young and cutesy for the part of Gavroche.  Gavroche is supposed to be a tough kid of the streets, not some adorable little boy with missing teeth.  But Huttlestone's played Gavroche on the West End in the past, as well as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, so we know he can sing.  To be honest, I haven't yet seen a Gavroche who perfectly fits my image of the character.  Ross McCall in the 1988 Complete Symphonic Recording is the best I've heard so far, but he'd be way too old now and I don't even know what he looks like.

This shot is actually from Les Miz's 2011 West End run, with Fra Fee as Marius (that's him on the right), who incidentally is playing Courfeyrac in the movie.  Yay for stage performer cameos!

And speaking of which...

Colm Wilkinson as Bishop Myriel

Okay, so not the best picture (this is a shot taken off-set), but who cares? LET'S TURN SOMERSAULTS! Colm Wilkinson's in the movie!!!!

I was more thrilled about this casting choice than with any of the others, even Samantha Barks as Eponine.  The sad truth is that Colm's too old now to handle the entire role of Jean Valjean (even though he's the best and only Valjean ever in the history of musical theater, world without end, amen) but I'm SO pleased that he's been given at least a small part in the movie.  And the Bishop has some pretty heavy-duty singing to do in the beginning, so this should be outstanding.

Other familiar names from various stage productions are making an appearance in smaller parts as well-- Killian Donnelly is going to be Combeferre, Frances Ruffelle is playing the head Lovely Lady (ahem), Katie Hall and Adam Searles will be extras in crowd scenes and Hadley Fraser is going to be the Army Captain of the National Guard!  (I'm much too excited about that last one.  Heh.  "Give up your guns or die... that's all I ask of you!"  Okay, moving on.)

It looks like the movie is also going to include several little details from the book that didn't make it into the stage musical for practical reasons-- Gavroche's elephant, for instance.  (Yay!)  The whole scope of this movie is just going to be so much bigger and more impressive than anything that could be conveyed in a stage play or concert.  (I still love you, 10th.  You're still the best.  This just might be... second best.)

Somewhere beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing, say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

What are your thoughts on the upcoming movie?  What did I leave out in this post?  What's your opinion of the cast?  Who might you have chosen for the parts? And why on earth isn't Samantha Barks on that movie poster instead of Amanda Seyfried?  Leave a comment, do!

Also... this happens to be my 200th blog post!  I forgot to say anything at the 100 mark, so I'm saying something now.  Shall I throw confetti or would you prefer not to have the mess everywhere?