> Chapter1-Take1: December 2012

Silver Linings Playbook: my take on the movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence

File this under 'better late than never'.  Just in case you still haven't seen it ... after all your friends told you how great it was? What are you waiting for? ... here's my long overdue 'take' on The Silver Linings Playbook. It's really less a review (there are a ton of good ones over at Rotten Tomatoes) and more a look at the casting. Having read the book, I knew that Matthew Quick's funny, heartwarming story about a couple of mentally fragile souls who help heal each other and find love, had the potential to be a really good movie.

It was writer/director David O. Russell's casting choices that had me befuddled. Right off the bat I bristled when I read Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) was cast as Tiffany, the grieving widow who chases after Pat.  Literally chases after him; following him every time he goes jogging, gradually building up a friendship of sorts. They strike a bargain; she'll help him communicate with his ex-wife despite a restraining order in place and in return, he'll be her partner in a dance competition. In the novel, Tiffany is older than the 30 year old Pat by a few years so I was disappointed that the director chose to cast a hot young name rather than a more seasoned actress. It wasn't only that I thought it would take an older actress to have the cojones to pull off the brassy, ballsy but deeply wounded widow. It was that I thought, 'Oh, wonderful! Here's a great part for an actress that's actually over 30! Hurrah!'  But what does Russell do? Cast a 22 year old instead. My frustration with what felt like typical male sexist attitudes aside, I did Jennifer Lawrence a disservice as an actress. Whatever her age, Lawrence has the maturity required to carry off a Tiffany who, under a brittle and aggressive mask is at once both desperately determined and vulnerable. Old beyond her years you might say. A wounded bird. Russell lets us know her actual age isn't the issue the first time they meet. They're partway into dinner at her sister and brother-in-law's house when Tiffany suddenly stands up, announces she's leaving and asks Pat to walk her home. Pat complains about her poor social skills but complies anyway and when they reach her parents home, where she has an apartment in the back,  Tiffany very bluntly invites him to have sex with her. When the astonished Pat asks her "How old are you?", Tiffany snaps back sarcastically with a withering sneer "Old enough to have a marriage end and not wind up in a mental hospital."  Ouch!  Old enough ...  yes, Jennifer Lawrence is. David O. Russell's sharply crafted script helps.

Likewise Bradley Cooper didn't seem right for the part of Pat, the just-released bi-polar mental patient either. Would I believe Cooper as a former fatty? And why would I want to? I like his current image just fine. Silly surface details aside, he's great in The Hangover  what with the big sexy beast stuff. I knew he could play a smartass but I was doubtful he had the range to pull off bi-polar. I needn't have worried. Turns out he has immense range, displaying his The Actor's Studio training with gritty realism. I've read that Cooper has had, what he calls his demons, in the past and went straight about ten years ago. That's a very dark place to come out from; the "silver lining" for Cooper being that his own life is a gold mine of emotional experiences and responses he can access should he choose to dig that deep, which he does here. It's tough stuff but he doesn't flinch. He rages like a wild man gone off the rails and his baby blues go dark and threatening. There's a scene where he lashes out at his parents, accidentally striking his mother; the the remorse instantaneous in his eyes and deflated body posture. I just thought he nailed the entire spectrum and his pretty dimples were scarcely in sight until the ending. Which I LOVED.

Part of Cooper's success as Pat has to do with changes Russell made to Pat's character. In Quick's novel Pat has been put away for almost four years; in the film it's 8 months. "Eight months is long enough" says his mother when she signs him out and brings him home without telling her husband.  Eight months is long enough. Russell has said he has a similarly challenged son but that the novel's character of Pat, so deeply troubled that he's been institutionalized for four years wasn't someone he could know and understand.  Being away for 8 months, that he could understand. That essential fact made it easier to buy it for me too.  Pat from the book, with his psychotic episodes blown up on screen might just be too frightening for the audience to fall in love with. The somewhat subdued cinematic Pat ('somewhat' being the key word) as played by Cooper is still hobbled by his psyche but very lovable indeed.  My complaints from the book - Pat calling the institution 'the bad place' and the separation from his wife as 'apart time' which made him sound moronic - were gone as well.

Another change which works really well is Pat, Sr., played masterfully by Robert De Niro. The novel's father is cold and unloving, angrily ignoring Pat for a good chunk of the book before he finally warms up. Russell and De Niro's character is much more complex - a loving family man with 'Anger Management' and OCD issues of his own. I don't think De Niro has been this good in ages. Cooper and De Niro have an off screen friendship; their natural chemistry definitely showed and I completely bought them in this difficult father/son dynamic. Russell has pointed out De Niro also has a son with similar issues and that he, Cooper and De Niro all come from Italian - American backgrounds which he says helped their mutual understanding.

Pat's mother is played with such, I don't quite know what to call it, other than charismatic maternal realism, by Jacki Weaver, that I found myself drawn to her face whenever she was onscreen. She's got a tentative crooked smile that grounded her in this role of a mother desperate for her son to succeed. I googled Weaver and discovered she's Australian film royalty. Weaver has been acting since the mid-1960's but rocketed to fame with an Oscar nominated role in Animal Kingdom just two years back in 2010. Earlier this year you might have seen her in Rules of Engagement but maybe not since it was a flop at theaters. Anyway, forget about that because she has another half dozen films already in the post production process. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of her over the next couple of years. Such a surprise, and that's saying nothing about her master of the accent. I'm no expert but I hadn't a clue she wasn't an American born housewife from Philly. I just listened to her doing an interview on Australian TV. Oh, she's definitely from the land down under.  What a seriously talented woman; I feel like such an idiot for not knowing about her sooner.

The writer/director of The Fighter, David O. Russell is clearly familiar with the working class families he writes about.  One of the most impactful changes he made to the book was in how the patriarch of this particular working class family makes a living. True to the times - 2008 -  Russell has Pat Sr. lose his job and take up bookmaking to earn a living. That gambling element really ups the stakes and adds a whole new shimmery layer to the ending's silver lining.

But it's Russell's personal experience with mental health issues (his own son is bipolar) and how families deal with them that really stands out. I can't think of a better fit in terms of adaptations. Indeed, it feels as though this was his movie to make.

Russell spoke of being inspired by his son in a Writer's Guild of America Interview. I think the quote I excerpted says quite a bit about Russell and the love he feels for him.

"I’d been waiting a long time for something with characters who have dealt with the many issues my son has dealt with, so he could feel a part of the world, and Matthew Quick’s book hit on it. So I was able to make it very personal." 
That fatherly feeling, wanting his son to feel a part of the world is what we all want for our kids. In the Silver Linings Playbook, Pat's parents feel it. They are desperate for him to succeed. To find happiness. It's what we all want and we root for him all the way.  As you can imagine a film (or a book) titled Silver Linings Playbook has a happy ending. Never overdone or saccharine here, is the idea that family, friendship, love are the things that connect us, and often, the things that save us. That's our silver lining. One of my favorite movies of the year.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Do you recognize Rachel Weisz snarling as Evanora in this still from the latest OZ, The Great and Powerful poster. Judging from this image she's a bad witch, wouldn't you say?

Weisz is joined in the film by fellow witchy women, Michelle Williams as Glinda and Mila Kunis as Theodora. James Franco is Oscar (the wizard) Dibbs. The movie comes out in late March.  I don't know about this one. The 1939 film version of the story starring Judy Garland is absolutely iconic. No need to remake it, right? Still, we were stirred by Wicked the musical, which wanders around the same universe. Is there room for another Oz tale? How will this narrative fit within our expectations? Does it have something new to say? The impressive cast under Spiderman and former horror helmer Sam Rami direction makes the films' progress worth following. It's still wait and see for me.

The Director of Les Miserables answers critics

"....and to me the great theme of the film is what we will sacrifice for love, what we will do for love. You have Fantine, who’s willing to lose everything, her body, her life, to try to save her child. You’ve got Valjean, who changes everything for love. You’ve got Eponine, who actually sacrifices herself physically for love. It makes it resonate with the beauty of what people will do in the name of love."
This quote from Tom Hooper comes from an IndieWire interview with Jay Fernandez in which Hooper explains many of his directorial choices in Les Miserables - some of which have the critics chirping but most audiences cheering (as far as I can see!).  Take a look inside Hooper's head here

and take a look at Samantha Barks as Eponine singing On My Own here.

New Great Gatsby Trailer boasts Usher, Florence+theMachine, Filter

Have you seen this newest Great Gatsby trailer? We really get a great look at the story arc in this one plus we see a little of Gatsby's past in what look like flashbacks. Leonardo DiCaprio really channels Gatsby's desperation to grab Daisy and all she symbolizes; in the trailer you can already see his journey from smitten to total devastation. It's so visually striking - and remember, director Baz Luhrman is doing it in 3D,  so it will really be something to see. After seeing how brilliantly Ang Lee utilized 3D technology in Life of Pi - it was never intrusive or gimmicky- I'm not nervous about that aspect of the film at all. The technology and the artists' understanding of how best to use it, have grown exponentially over the last few 3D projects. I thought HUGO was masterful in terms of 3D but frankly, Ang Lee's use of it seems even more advanced. There's not a false note about the look and feel of Life of Pi. I'm hoping for the same for Gatsby.

What I am still a bit nervous about is the music. I've said I'm something of a traditionalist and it seems pretty clear now with the release of this second trailer that this is the music from the soundtrack. The Kanye/Jay-Z track “No Church in the Wild”  was in the first trailer; in this second trailer we also have  “Bedroom Hymns” by Florence + the Machines and Filter’s cover of “Happy Together.” It's not the kind of music I usually listen to (although the Filter slowmo version of Happy Together had me feeling pretty groovy) and my initial reaction is to want music from the period. Period! What Luhrman has done -  much as he did in Moulin Rouge - is to modernize the music, which actually does a couple of interesting things. First of all I think we can't help but see the events of this classic story a little differently when the music is so unexpected. I think it serves as a beacon, lighting up the moments we've read and seen before, pointing them out so we can't miss seeing them in a new way. As much as that tweak pumps up the volume as it were, it also heightens the drama. 

The second thing the music does is potentially open up this story to a younger generation of people who only know Gatsby from being force fed it in high school. The idea of reaching out via Usher and Florence+the Machine really is quite brilliant. There's a grittiness to the music and the dancing that the Charleston just doesn't have to our modern eyes and ears. Look at this tribute to the roaring 20's music and see what you think. Doesn't that Charleston look comical? I can see how a young person might not get what a huge departure from polite societal expectations the dance and the whole jazz age thing was. Luhrman's more fervored dance movements capture that energy splendidly! 2012 has been an amazing year in films based on books. But just looking at this trailer, I can't wait for what 2013 brings too.

Saturday Snapshot: We Survived!

This is a picture of MLH, moi and the boy Russell, that we used for our Christmas card back in 1999. 
As you can see we had all the necessary provisions to survive Y2K. Thank heavens for Costco!

Since the world ended yesterday on 12/21/2012, I thought there was a certain poetry in making this my first post of the post-Apocalypse world. 

How's Day One of your brave, new world?

When I can, I participate in Saturday Snapshot, a fun photo meme hosted by Alyce at AtHomeWithBooks  
The idea is to post your own photos, not stuff you swipe off the net. Visit Alyce to play along.

Les Miserables Hair and Makeup (Video)

If the three new movies (The Hobbit, On The Road, Jack Reacher) based on books opening today leave you cold...if you can't wait for Christmas Day, not because of the presents under the tree, the turkey in the oven, or friends and family gathering for a festive holiday dinner; but because you finally get to see Les Miserables, I thought you'd get as big a kick as I did out of this craft featurette on the hair and make-up in the movie.  It's just a few minutes and totally worth it for the look at the "Lovely Ladies" makeup and for the peek inside Anne Hathaway's mouth. It's unbelievable what a little paint will do!

Three New Movies Based on Books: Which One Will You See?

Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day with the release of a trio of  new movies based on books!

The Hobbit is finally being released countrywide and the whole 24 vs 48 fps dialog can go nationwide too. I'm  curious to see the movie, to see how well Martin Freeman does as Bilbo Baggins (I'm sure he nails it), but mostly to see how this new technology looks. I have a friend who heads up the post production department of a major studio. He tells me that 24 fps only looks right to our eyes because that's all we've ever seen on screen, that's all we know. We're used to it, and we don't realize how little it reflects the way things really are. He told me the industry's history of using the standard 24fps was based on what was essentially a business decision made in those early days. The developers settled for what 24 fps could give them visually because it was all they could afford and the only way to proceed at the time. Faster frame rate = more film processed = too expensive.

One movie based on a book opening this weekend that I won't bother to see is Jack Reacher, the film based on Lee Child's book One Shot about a hard boiled detective who dispenses his own brand of justice.  I've never been into this one partly because I have a love/hate relationship with Tom Cruise and it's the kind of film I'll watch on HBO when it rolls around just so I can say I've seen it. I wasn't overly surprised that A.O. Scott in his New York Times review  notes that Reacher is a part Cruise could play in his sleep. And does.
It’s just what guys like me do,” Reacher says wearily at one point, though he could say it at just about any point.Guys like him are mythical creatures, fantasy figures who dispense rough justice when civic institutions fail. Part comic-book superhero, part Old West vigilante and wholly preposterous, Reacher is far less enigmatic than he or anyone else in the movie thinks he is. And also less interesting.
Less interesting and maybe we're just not in the mood for that kind of extreme violence acting as entertainment right now. We've lost our taste for it.

Finally, On The Road opens tomorrow, Friday December 21 too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one, hoping it's got an authentic ring to it. I think the casting of Kristen Stewart makes it a bit tricky. She's such a TwiHard icon that one wonders if she can break through. Does she have the talent? And even if she does, will her personal life with its high octane celebritized drama outweigh any good work she may do in the film?
I've included the trailer so you can have a look-see.

I wish Hollywood didn't crowd the end of the year with so many films. I know we are on school holiday and so presumably go to the movies more but it's not that easy to squeeze in a movie with Christmas shopping and holiday parties and events around every corner.  How about you? Will you take in a 'flick' this weekend?

Behind the Scenes: Silver Linings Playbook

My take on the Silver Linings Playbook movie is still MIA but if you've seen the film, here's a link to an interview over at IndieWire with the film's editor, Jay Cassidy.  It's an interesting look behind the scenes and some plot points discussed so take this as a


UNSCRIPTED: David Lindsay-Abaire

Collider: Did you get to go to the set, and did you get to walk on the yellow brick road?

LINDSAY-ABAIRE: I walked- yes, I was on set; I walked on the yellow brick road.  I got to take a yellow brick home with me.

Collider: That’s kind of awesome.

LINDSAY-ABAIRE: Yeah, it’s fantastic. 

Screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire on working on the OZ, The Great and Powerful in this Collider interview.

I haven't felt much like being here for the past few days. Movies and books seemed to be irrelevant amidst the heart-sickening Sandy Hook news. Like many of you, I've found waves of sadness for the children who died creep up on me at unexpected moments. My mind, flimsy at the best of times, has just been unable to truly focus on any one thing for any length of time.  MLH suggested a movie might be helpful, to take my mind off the horror for a couple of hours. I'd forgotten how a good movie really can take you away. And sometimes life is so painful, the real world going-ons just so horrendous that getting away for a couple of hours is a very good thing. Two movies,  both of which turned out to be so much more than good, helped. Silver Linings Playbook and The Life of Pi were both beautiful films in their very different ways. I'd love to riff on the healing powers of art right now but just don't have it in me.
I'm working towards writing up my take on both films very soon.  But mostly I'm hoping Americans can come together in a sensible solution towards gun violence in our country.

Opening Today: The Hobbit (trailer)

Finally! The long-awaited first film of The Hobbit trilogy opens everywhere today. For die hard JRR Tolkein fans that means being in line as I write this at about 11pm, for the midnight - 12:01am to be precise - show. You pre-ordered your tickets, I assume. Hopefully you're near a theater where you can choose between 2D and 3D.  The big question is whether to see it at the new 48 fps vs the standard 24 fps format, if you are lucky enough to have the choice. Theaters with the technology to handle the 48fps are very much in the minority. In any case the 48fps format has its fans as well as its detractors. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. MLH saw The Hobbit a week ago and enjoyed it. It didn't - it couldn't - live up to the LOTR movies but MLH thinks it will satisfy fans of the book. He saw it in the standard format.
I'm not sure I'll make it to the theater this weekend ... let me know what you think if you see it.

Is Your Favorite Book to Movie a Nominee?

The Golden Globes nominations came out today. While there are not quite as many screen adaptations serving as inspiration as last year - Remember Moneyball, The Help, The Descendants, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, My Week with Marilyn, War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ? - the quality of the films is pretty astounding.

First off , CONGRATS TO ALL THE GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE, and especially the nominees based on some of our favorite books.

For Best Picture Comedy or Musical
 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Silver Linings Playbook, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Les Miserables and Moonrise Kingdom

For Best Picture Drama
Lincoln,  Life of Pi,  Django Unchained, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

You can link to the entire Golden Globes list  but I'll highlight the book to movie news here.

The following movies based on books all received at least one Golden Globes nomination:
LINCOLN, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and The Paperboy.

LINCOLN based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals is on top with 7 nominations. Good to see this depth of appreciation for such a deliberate, intelligent and thoughtful film! LINCOLN is nominated for Best Picture Drama with Daniel Day-Lewis getting a pretty predictable nomination for Best Actor. Sally Fields has a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln, the fantastic Mr. Tommy Lee Jones Best Supporting for his brilliant and powerful turn as Thaddeus Stevens. Steven Spielberg was nominated as Best Director, with Tony Kushner given the nod for his screenplay based on Kearns-Goodwin's book (as I understand it, the film is actually based on a few pages in a chapter but don't quote me) as well as John Williams for his score.

My favorite film of the year, Les Miserables, net a few noms too, including Best Picture in the Comedy or Musical category. I was thrilled to see Anne Hathaway rightfully nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for her astonishing performance, as well as Hugh Jackman for Best Actor as Valjean, but the foreign press people left director Tom Hooper out. Sigh. As the mother of a future director, I'm astonished and disappointed in how often the director, the captain of the ship, is ignored, as if the film came into being all by its lonesome. It all begins with the script but it's the director who turns that script into what you see on the screen. Okay, that's my mini rant of the day.

Like Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman's Best Actor nomination for Valjean was expected; but since the GG's break up drama from comedy or musical, Jackman won't have to compete for this one with Day Lewis. Instead, he'll be up against Bradley Cooper, in the Silver Linings Playbook. The hottie is developing a lot more than just great looking pecs! Jackman will also be up against Ewan McGregor in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen based on the book by Paul Torday, and rounding out the category, Jack Black for Bernie and Bill Murray for Hyde Park on Hudson.

Les Miserables doesn't have an 'original' score to consider but it does have a new song "Suddenly" which has been put in the Best Original Song category. It's a fine song, especially for what it does in the context of the film BUT Adele's SKYFALL is also in contention. That's the song to beat.  Along with all my Les Miz faves, I can't quite get the Skyfall song out of my head.

One of the biggest contenders for the GG's as well as the Oscars is The Silver Linings Playbook based on Matthew Quick's book.  In addition to Bradley Cooper's nominated performance, people I know have been buzzing about Jennifer Lawrence as Cooper's co-star so I'm not surprised she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress.  Director David O. Russell was also nominated for his screenplay. The GG's don't differentiate between an original screenplay and adapted material so Russell's script will be judged against Kushner's LINCOLN, Tarentino's Django Unchained,  Zero Dark Thirty and Argo. I'm finally seeing Silver Linings Playbook this afternoon!!!

Life of Pi based on Yann Martel's highly acclaimed book is also in the Best Picture category as is its director, Ang Lee. Composer Mycheal Danna scored in the Best Original Score category as well.

This is most definitely the BIG SCREEN movie of the year. Do not, do not, do not wait for it on DVD!
Cloud Atlas just mystified a lot of people and I'm sure its confused reception was deeply disappointing to its creators. No surprise then, that the only nomination is in the Best Original Score category for writer/director Tom Tykwer with Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil but nothing for the writer/director Wachowski siblings.

Thinking about the years of work that went into Cloud Atlas as well as all the vision and sweat Joe Wright put into the fatally flawed - but beautiful - Anna Karenina, breaks my heart!

Original score is the only category where Anna Karenina is in the running too. Dario Marinelli's score is stunning and deserves the recognition.

A couple of other bits and surprising pieces - 

I would have thought The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was released too far back in the year to be remembered but wonderful Judi Dench is one of the Best Actress nominees and the movie is in competition for Best Picture Comedy or Musical category!  I adore Judi Dench and I adored her in this one but I'm honestly not sure it merits a Best Performance by an Actress nomination.
There are so many others!
For example ...

Nicole Kidman earned a Best Performance by an Actress nom for The Paperboy, the Lee Daniel's movie based on Pete Dexter's book.  I don't know a single person who has seen it. I do know that it's rife with controversy, that Kidman steams up the screen.

Emily Blunt also received a Best Performance by an Actress for her work in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  The movie based on Paul Torday's book is also nominated for Best Picture in the comedy/musical category.

Meryl Streep for Hope Floats is just nominated out of force of habit when it comes to the legendary Meryl Streep- Hope Floats is one of the few mediocre films Ms. Streep has ever been in; and she really didn't rise above the film's very average level.

Soooo ... check out the list and see what you think. I'd love to know.

Photo Credit: Nuit Lumineux,  MSCJWharton
Click to go to photographer's GirlGoneDanish blog.

"The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream"

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Miz-treated: Les Miz Reviews

The Les Miserables reviews have been popping up online. Will the Les Miz haters tar and feather the film?

Todd McCarthy at the Hollywood Reporter isn't a fan. Of the musical or those of us who love it.

"As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good."
He goes on to say
"Although not terrible, the music soon begins to slur together to the point where you'd be willing to pay the ticket price all over again just to hear a nice, pithy dialogue exchange between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe rather than another noble song that sounds a lot like one you just heard a few minutes earlier. There were 49 identifiable musical numbers in the original show, and one more has been added here."
Not terrible? Todd McCarthy may hate Les Miserables, the movie but what he really hates, what he holds complete disdain for, what he despises, is the Les Miz musical that started it all.  And that includes those of us who love it.    Yes! Another noble song ... I'll have some more please. The song added is "Suddenly" and lest fellow Les Mizzers object, the song was written by Claude-Michel Schonberg, the composer of the musical, along with Herbert Kretzmer, the show's lyricist.

Over at the Guardian, Catherine Shoard feels the need to 'explain' things for us, just in case we haven't heard.
"But beware: it's not strictly a musical. There's no dancing, there are no jazz hands and there is next to no speech. Rather, it is lobotomised opera, in which incidental dialogue like "I don't understand" and "I don't know what to say" is warbled, liturgy-style. The phrase "We will nip it in the bud" becomes a rousing chorus; presumably "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched" doesn't scan so well."
Jazz hands? Lobotomised opera? And clearly Shoard has never danced her way around the house quazi-singing a chorus of her own Les Miz inspired creation, like I do!
"Now I've got to do the laundry. Tell me what is next for you?" "You can a little break now. It won't hurt to take a rest. Have a cup of tea my dearie and think only on the best."
 There is sheer joy in that kind of sing along spirit - a shared memory, a mutual connection to the material that borders on the ecstatic when Les Miz fans start riffing!
As reviewers do begin posting their reviews I'm disappointed to learn that while there are scads of critics that were struck by Cupid's arrow as I was like Baz Bamigboya in the Daily Mail who called it a '5star musical extravaganza',  all the reviews are not 100% positive. That's the silly Pollyanna part of me that yearns for everyone to see what I see, love what I love. The truth is for every "emotionally susceptible" sucker like me there are other wiser, experienced voices and eyes who can educate and prepare we weaklings, so that instead of allowing ourselves to be swept up by the passion of the piece, we distance ourselves, sit nodding in our theater seats and look for things to criticize!

Are there things to criticize in Les Miserables the movie? Of course, there are. But why? There is so so much more to praise that the criticism becomes small and petty and meaningless. If you want to read my own small and petty snipes, please do so, but the most important thing to remember is that this film has the power to sweep you away. It is audacious and spell-binding from the small intimate moments we see closeup for the first time - moments even more empowered  because for the first time we don't just hear the passion of the music - we see it - the hurt, the love, the fear, all playing on the faces of the characters as well as the sweeping, soaring scale of the drama embodied by the young French students climbing the barricades, ready to die for their cause. It tears at you and it lifts your heart, both.

My petty criticisms, for what they're worth, which is ZERO are:

Ann Hathaway's character, Fantime, dies too early. Curse you, Tom Hooper, for not re-writing the musical and keeping Fantime around longer! Watching Anne Hathaway sing I Dreamed a Dream while her own hair is being hacked off is one of the most emotionally affecting film scenes I've ever seen. The audience is bereft without her ... and in this filmed version, Hathaway' powerful performance as Fantime not only doesn't play second fiddle to the star of the show, Jackman, she threatens to eclipse him while onscreen (I almost wrote onstage :))

Jackman's singing voice here is just a tad high and almost sounds strained initially, so at first hearing of his singing voice it's unexpected and a teensy bit jarring. But that's a fleeting momentary thought. He is Valjean, he embodies all that is honorable, merciful,and loving. He is always aware that his momentary happiness can be destroyed in an instant, and all because of his own mistakes which he takes to heart. What have I done? When he sings, we hear the prayer for peace -inner peace - in his voice. He's a good man, a devoted father who prays that he can continue to provide the best for Cosette, exhausted from watching over his shoulder for an entire lifetime. That rawness is in Jackman's voice and the authenticity works.

Likewise Russell Crowe isn't a perfect singer. He stands very rigid and tall throughout most of the film, the strong dedicated policman, ever vigilant, ever on the hunt for Valjean. His singing is quite restrained, mirroring that constrained feeling, the inner turmoil. Coupled with Crowe's bit of a rock-twang style, it ends up working for the determined Javert character.

Another criticism, I find it far-fetched that Valjean can escape Inspector Javert's clutches despite the fact that they both live and work in fairly close proximity. It's one of those moments where we realize we have to suspend our disbelief and we do.

And watch for the leaf that flutters in the sky and then down to the main action, very much like the feather in Forrest Gump. Cheesy and unnecessary but ultimately, unimportant and easily dismissed.

Here's a review from David Edelstein in New York Magazine I read on Vulture.com  that seems fairly balanced.

You don't have to have seen and loved Les Miz the stage musical to love the film - my husband has never seen it and was blown away by the movie - but equally important, if you hated the musical, the movie won't transform those feelings.  Don't expect it to!

New Les Miserables Song 'Suddenly' Video Featurette

Piano/Vocal Music Score
Includes New Song "Suddenly"
I'm calling today Musical Monday. That's my excuse for posting on Les Miserables yet again. You have probably heard that there is a new song in Les Miserables that was not in the stage production. It's called 'Suddenly' and it was written for Hugh Jackman to sing as Jean Valjean. According to producer Cameron Mackintosh in Playbill, the song  "was something that Alain and Claude-Michel came up with, after a passage in the book, which beautifully explains what happens when [Valjean] takes Cosette from the inn and looks after her. Herbie's* written a lovely lyric to it, and we're all delighted how it seems to fit into the film version." 

It fits in seamlessly, I can tell you that!

I doubt they would put it into the stage play because the song is all about the intimacy that the stage doesn't allow.  

Watch the video featurette below.  I get a giggle out of how Hooper pronounces Les Miserables.  Lay Mizzer Ah Blaah. 

The soundtrack won't be available until the day after Christmas (I see a lot of stockings stuffed with IOU's). In the meantime there is a freshened up book of Les Miserables sheet music for voice and piano featuring the new song. 
* Herbie is Herbert Kretzmer, the lyricist who penned the words to the original Les Miz songs. Kretzmer started his career as a tv and film critic before becoming a lyricist ... a strange but interesting shift. 
You can get Herbie savvy at his website. http://www.herbertkretzmer.com/index.htm

For a glimpse behind the musical scenes, check it out this featurette, taking heed of this 

Spoiler Alert

I found the track listing in the same Playbill article:

"Look Down" (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and The Convicts)
"The Bishop" (Colm Wilkinson)
"Valjean's Soliloquy" (Hugh Jackman)
"At the End of the Day" (Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, The Factory Girls and Cast)
"I Dreamed a Dream" (Anne Hathaway)
"The Confrontation" (Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway)
"Castle On a Cloud" (Isabelle Allen)
"Master of the House" (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter)
"Suddenly" (Hugh Jackman)
"Stars" (Russell Crowe")
"ABC Cafe/Red and Black" (Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit and Cast)
"In My Life"/"A Heart Full of Love" (Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Banks)
"On My Own" (Samantha Banks)
"One Day More" (Cast)
"Drink With Me" (Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Huttlestone and Cast)
"Bring Him Home" (Hugh Jackman)
"The Final Battle" (Cast)
"Javert's Suicide" (Russell Crowe)
"Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" (Eddie Redmayne)
"Epilogue" (Amanda Seyfriend, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Anne Hathaway, Colm Wilkinson and Cast)

My Top Three Holiday Movies Based on Books

Season's Readings

I  was attracted to this wreath I saw hanging in the window at at my local Crate N' Barrel.  I still don't have mine up! We've moved and MLH has to get our Christmas stuff out of storage. Right now my holiday song is "Tomorrow" from Annie! If he doesn't get his reindeer in gear tomorrow, MLH is going to wake up and find this $100 wreath hanging on the door instead of the free wreath sitting in our storage unit.

Ho Ho Ho   Merry Christmas

To put you in an equally holiday mood , I'm linking to a post I wrote last Christmas Eve
 on three of my favorite holiday movies based on books

I know there are lots of great ones out there. I'd love to hear some of your favorites.

The Look of Les Miserables: NEW Production Design Featurette

Universal has started releasing new craft featurettes of Les Miserables. I'm sharing this one on Production Design as I expect Eve Stewart will be nominated for her amazing work here! There's some irony for me that this is a Universal picture as once upon a time I was a tour guide at Universal Studios;  for me, the parts that take place in Paris look just like that Universal Studios backlot - dressed and populated as a crowded poverty-stricken city in the middle of chaos. 

I spent a fair amount of time taking tours past, and wandering around myself, the European streets of the backlot. Cruising the empty sets is a bizarre trip into a world of wonder and make-believe, a world fabricated from foam facades, plastic bricks and candy glass.  It was thrilling, as a fan,  to press ones' palm against a 'looks like brick but it's not' wall and ponder the possibilities. For Les Miserables the filmmakers built their set, constructed with very much the same materials, as Anne Hathaway points out, from painted plastic, on set at the famed Pinewood Studios. See what Ms. Stewart and her set decorator, Anna Lynch-Robinson have to say in this featurette. While they aimed for realism, Ms. Stewart was acutely aware she was not recreating Paris for a historical documentary, and aimed as well, for the magic. I think she succeeded. 

As always watch this at your peril, it may contain...

Spoiler Alerts

Opening today ... two movies based on books


Here's a couple that are new to me 

Lay the Favorite comes out today. As you can see from the poster on the left, the movie stars Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn. If that's Vince Vaughn on the cover I find him unrecognizable.
Here's what the book is about; not sure how it synchs up with the film.

An eye-popping and hilarious joyride through the underworld of sports betting.

Lay the Favorite is the story of Beth Raymer’s years in the high-stakes, high-anxiety world of sports betting—a period that saw the fall of the local bookie and the rise of the freewheeling, unregulated offshore sports book, and with it the elevation of sports betting in popular culture. As the business explodes, Beth rises—from assistant to expert, trusted and seasoned enough to open an offshore booking office in the Caribbean with a few associates, men who leave their families up north to make a quick killing, while donning new tropical personas fueled by abundant drugs and local girlfriends, and who one by one succumb to their vices. They lie, cheat, steal, and run, until Beth is the last man standing.
Raymer brings to life a world that teems with pathos and ecstasy in this wild picaresque that also tells the story of a young woman’s crazy, sexy, most unlikely coming-of-age."
Also opening is Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. That sure sounded like a book title to me when I first read it, but the movie's imdb listing doesn't credit an author. Instead both the director, Donald Rice, and Mary Henely-Magill, are listed as writers of the screenplay. There's nothing, nada about a book. But I had a funny feeling it was a book title ... I mean look at that poster - it reeks chick lit book cover. Check out the movie's description:
"A young woman frets upstairs in her family's country manor on her wedding day, fearful she's about to marry the wrong man. Downstairs, both her fiancé and her former lover grow increasingly anxious."
I decided to google it, only to discover there was a novel Cheerful Weather for the Wedding written by Julia Strachey, a British Indian-born writer who died in 1979. She wrote the book in 1932!

Here's the book's description from Barnes and Noble:
"It is a brisk English March day, and Dolly is getting ready to marry the wrong man. Waylaid by the sulking admirer who lost his chance, an astonishingly oblivious mother bustling around and making a fuss, and her own sinking dread, the bride-to-be struggles to reach the altar.
Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward."

It is clearly the same story. I'm curious as to why she's not credited as the writer - every writer should be given credit for their source material - but perhaps it's just an accidental omission on IMDB.com ... I'll have to check.  Hopefully you can't judge a book by that cover because that one with the young woman reading by the window looks awfully dreary!

Good thing they are doing a new movie tie in version of the book cover eh? I love how they are marketing it with Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey blurb on the cover! Finding this picture makes me feel better, since
they couldn't have done a movie tie in of the novel without crediting the original writer. I'm sure it will be on the credit crawl at the end of the film.

I haven't read either of these books, haven't read any of the reviews of the movies. I just wanted to let you know they're out there somewhere. As you know these indie type films don't get the distribution of the biggies so they may not be in a multiplex near you.

The Monumental Cast of Monuments Men

Who's next? Brad Pitt? George Clooney has just added Matt Damon to the cast of his next directorial effort, Monuments Men. That's the film based on the non-fiction book by Robert M. Edsel  I blogged about in October . The story is about about the men and women charged with rooting out and returning the many valuable works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  Matt Damon will join Clooney who directs and stars, along with an all star cast that includes Daniel Craig, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchet - Paul Giamatti is still rumored to join the movie which is set for release in London at the end of 2014. Wow, that's a long time in the future.

Some cynics are talking about Clooney's cast as being bloated with celebrities - comparing it to the popular Kelly's Heroes, the 1970's comic war film about a group of soldiers who stole across enemy lines to get their hands on Nazi war treasure. The movie starred Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, comedian Don Rickles and a slew of tv stars at the time; Telly Savalas (Kojak), Gavin MacCleod (Love Boat) and Carol O'Connor (All in the Family).

I think that's absurd and you really can't compare the two films or their casts. Clooney has assembled an ensemble with the gravitas to make this work. Monuments Men sounds like it could end up to be a great wartime action drama. And since none of these actors are known for making safe and easy choices, I credit Clooney's selections.  I wonder? Will it be one of the best picture candidates we're talking about two years from now?

Is the The Silver Linings Playbook a Winner?

Zero Dark Thirty does it again. The National Board of Review have named it top film of the year, the award comes right on the heels of the NYFCC award.  If the L.A. Critics ditto the award when they vote this Friday, the stampede will begin.

For us book to movie people it's good to know Silver Linings Playbook is a winner too. According to Variety, David O. Russell who wrote and directed the film, won for Best Adapted Screenplay and yummy Bradley Cooper won for Best Actor. I've been on the Gosling side of the Gosling/Cooper hotness debate (mostly due to Ryan's exceptional acting skills, seriously) but from everything people are saying, Bradley Cooper is really growing as an actor by leaps and bounds and turns in a powerfully affecting performance in this film.

NBR's complete list of the top films includes some of our favorite books to movies.
In addition to "Zero," the NBR named its remaining top films of the year in alphabetical order: "Argo," "Beasts," "Django," "Les Miserables," "Lincoln," "Looper," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Promised Land" and "Silver Linings."
No surprise that Anna Karenina didn't make the cut but for Life of Pi not to make the top 10 is astonishing to me! And frankly, kinda surprised to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower up in that lauded number!

Spoiler Alert

To cheer us all up, here's a three minute video clip of David O. Russell talking about the film and casting Bradley Cooper who he doesn't let speak much in this snippet from the LA Times "The Envelope" series. But he's there, so there's that ...

Have you seen it? Everyone I know who has seen it has LOVED it. Same as Life of Pi. What do you think?

Amanda Seyfried sings A Heart Full of Love (video clip)


I had to have my daily fix of Les Miserables! If you haven't seen it yet, this one minute clip from the movie features Amanda Seyfried as Cossette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius singing A Heart Full of Love. It's a beautiful glimpse at their love story but you might want to wait and see it on the big screen.  Up to you... 

Unscripted: Keira Knightley

‘‘I like the dramatic tool that is fantasy.  I put period films within the category of fantasy as I would put sci-fi within that same category ’’
Keira Knightley on playing Anna Karenina
source: Word and Film

And the New York Film Critics Circle Winners are ...

Every winter, the studios roll out their award contenders and movie fans struggle to keep up with all the new releases while juggling jobs, family and the rigors of serious holiday shopping. It's a jungle out there boys and girls!  It's also the time when the critics associations start weighing in with their list of winners. The New York Film Critics Circle are always the first, they announced their winners today after a five hour long meeting.  The L.A. guys vote on Friday. Being first means being early so presumably Les Miserables was too late to be considered, otherwise I find the absence of awards from the NYFCC inexplicable!

There was some good news for another adaptation though, the amazing LINCOLN did well, perhaps not as well as fans would have thought. Tony Kushner won for Best Screenplay, Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actress, Sally Field for Best Supporting Actress.  In a bizarre move the critics ignored Tommy Lee Jone's incredible portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens and voted to award Matthew McConaughy Best Supporting Actor for his turns in Bernie, and Magic Mike. Two films admittedly I haven't seen. Ditto for Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea. Has anyone seen it?

The other top awards - Best Picture, Best Director went to Zero Dark Thirty with the film's director, Kathryn Bigelow garnering the top prize. Zero Dark Thirty's cinematographer, Greig Fraser won as well. According to the association's site:
"The Circle’s awards are often viewed as harbingers of the Oscar nominations, which are announced each February. The Circle’s awards are also viewed — perhaps more accurately — as a principled alternative to the Oscars, honoring esthetic merit in a forum that is immune to commercial and political pressures. "
You can read more about their process and see their complete list of winners here .

The whole thing makes me very nervous; I am really hoping for a Les Miz sweep unless Life of Pi or The Silver Linings Playbook change my mind. 
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