Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miz Movie Rambling

I'm fine; the bullet bounced off my corset.

So the Les Miserables movie musical finally came out, and to deservedly mixed reviews. The songs were pretty chopped up (most noticeable and damaging in "Confrontation," "Master of the House," "Look Down," "Plumet Attack," and "One Day More," in my opinion), but the sets looked great. Honestly, there was never any way crowds weren't going to come out en masse for this, and it was perfect for a Christmas pastime. Was it an instant classic? No. Did I cry? Yes. Multiple times? Yes.

Should have gotten Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel to coach this scene.

To get this out of the way: yes, Anne Hathaway was good. I wasn't in the "Anne Hathaway = best Catwoman ever!" camp, but man, did she give a great performance here. While I agree with a lot of Mick LaSalle's criticism regarding what happens when they make the showstopping songs intimate and whispered, I disagree with what he says about Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream." When she got to "but there are dreams that cannot be,/ and there are storms we cannot weather," you could hear the entire theater scrounging around for their Kleenex.

I thought Samantha Barks's "On My Own" was near perfect: belted, passionate...and still on a scale that worked for the film. But then, girl knows what she's doing. (I think the grit that Lea Salonga brings to Eponine still makes hers my favorite, though.) BTW, love this quotation from Barks from this interview: "I can't believe I actually spat in Ali G's face!"

When Eponine says "don't rob the house," don't rob the fucking house.

I love ethereal siren/angel/ghost-creature Amanda Seyfried, but there's not much to do with the role of Cosette. Ditto for ultimate trustafarian Marius. I told my mom immediately after the movie ended that I thought Eddie Redmayne sounded like Kermit, and she thought I was crazy. All the reviews seemed to love him, and I thought maybe I was just biased, but then...validation!

Congrats to Mrs. Lovett for finding a husband who's far more cheery than Sweeney Todd yet has the exact same morals and fashion sense. Seriously, never eat anything Helena Bonham Carter has cooked.

One day Tim Burton is going to wake and find that Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman, and Johnny Depp have all left him for Tom Hooper.

When Javert started throwing punches at the ABC guys, all I could think was, "fightin' 'round the world!"

Sure, Tugger could have saved him from the Seine, but we
know how Tugger feels about Russell Crowe's singing.

Javert putting the medal on Gavroche's corpse was sort of maudlin and didn't really feel true to where his character was at the point (still cried, though). It also annoyed me a little bit since Eponine's corpse was right there, and in the novel she's the dead person he recognizes in a quick flash of humanity, and hey, if you're going to go back to the book and have Fantine's teeth ripped out... But I guess in the context of the musical/movie Javert and Eponine haven't really had any interaction, while Javert and Gavroche have.

Even with Hugo's lengthy history of the Parisian sewers and ruminations on how much it blows to drown in poop, I was somehow not prepared for the OH MY GOD THEY'RE IN POOP scene where Valjean rescues Marius. Valjean needs a "world's best dad" mug, 'cause carrying your daughter's boyfriend through rivers of poop to get him to safety is really above and beyond.

As annoying as I find the Marius/Cosette nuptials, I loved in the novel how Marius's grandpa and Valjean get so, so, so into wedding planning. If Marius's grandpa had grabbed Cosette's hands and squealed, "DRESS SHOPPING!!!" it would have taken the movie into Mamma Mia! territory, but it also would have been pretty true to the book.

Joker and Harley Quinn's biggest rivals at Villain Prom.

Yeah, they're terrible people, but when Thenardier led his wife away by the hand after they were kicked out of the rich kids wedding, it made me sad to think that in the novel, Madame Thenardier has died in prison by that scene.

Eponine's part in the "Come to Me" reprise was axed. What gives? I mean, yeah, it's kind of weird for a dying man to be visited by the spirit of the girl who had a crush on his son-in-law, but still.

Heaven = being in an Occupy Paris camp? Forever? I hope they get to stroll around the Luxembourg and have some pain au chocolat at some point.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notre-Dame de Paris Pity Party

A movie musical? Oh, like Mamma Mia? That's cute, I guess.

Everyone* is super psyched about the movie adaptation of the Les Miserables stage musical that's coming out on Christmas. I'm psyched. I've been psyched for a while. I am crying right now because I am not currently watching Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter perform "Master of the House." There is even an advent calendar!

*Correction: Grumpy Cat is not psyched about Les Miserables.

But as excited as I am, I can't help feeling a little sad for other Victor Hugo novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of which I am also a huge fan. Everyone's freaking out over Les Miz, and there's Notre-Dame just sitting there abandoned like Quasimodo in the church's free baby bin while no one makes advent calendars for it.

Les Miz is close to my heart, and for me conjures memories of escaping by reading in gardens and cafes during a difficult time. I saw the musical afterwards and have the soundtrack on my iPod. Notre-Dame is a far more recent read for me, and I was surprised by how much it grabbed me. I love them both. However, as much as I love Les Miz, it can kinda be subtitled "How many people have to die so Cosette and Marius can have their boring, bougie wedding?" Spoiler alert: a lot.

I was trying to take a thoughtful picture but it turned out like porn.

Audiences generally want some sort of happy ending, preferably romance-related. Even though almost all of everybody's favorites get killed before the end of Les Miz, Cosette and Marius survive to register at Williams & Sonoma which makes Valjean happy, so...mission accomplished? Meanwhile, Notre-Dame's just like, "yeah, everyone died..." The last few chapters are like Disneyland's Small World ride, except instead of passing by different idyllic but stereotypical scenes of kids holding hands, you pass by scenes of people getting their brains knocked out, dying from shock, being hanged, getting tossed off cathedrals, starving to death in a pile of corpses, etc. It is basically Joss Whedon's fondest dream.

So Les Miz has a supposedly happy ending and advent calendars and Grumpy Cat memes and Anne Hathaway method acting by dying of TB, but does it have a scene where a guy and a girl are having a sex in a hotel room and the girl's pet goat is also in the hotel room and then a second guy whom the first guy allowed to watch the sex stabs the first guy during the sex? Spoiler alert: it does not.

Obviously the choice centerpiece scene for Auguste Couder's 1833
Scenes tirees de Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame also has the most beautiful man/goat relationship ever written (same goat as above). While struggling writer Pierre Gringoire's fake marriage to Esmeralda doesn't net him any sex, it does gain him custody of the little white trick-performing goat, Djali. The goat becomes Gringoire's dearest friend (not that high a bar - Frollo was his only friend previously) and he is certain she shares his feelings. Like Esmeralda, Quasimodo, and Frollo, Djali too is accused of being the devil (man, the 1400s were rough), but survives and gets the story's sole happy ending: a daring escape and new life with Gringoire.

Yeah, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys get married, but that happens off-scene and everyone knows he's going to cheat on her anyways (he was the stabee in the hotel sex scene).

FYI, Esmeralda is not generally topless.
Also her necklace is supposed to have a shoe on it.

Notre-Dame also has Jehan Frollo du Moulin in its corner. Jehan is Frollo's spoiled little brother/"other" kid, who always gets cut out of adaptations, which is too bad, because he is hilarious. Jehan is nothing like the rest of his family. While Frollo and Quasimodo are content to stay inside the cathedral to do their alchemy/bell-ringing, Jehan is a loud, obnoxious extrovert. His main activities are drinking, bullying, and hitting up a frustrated but enabling Frollo for money. When the gypsies rise up to take Esmeralda from Notre-Dame, he joins the fight on a whim and is promptly killed by his adopted brother Quasimodo. But hey, at least unlike Les Miz's Grantaire, he manages to not be passed out drunk through his book's central uprising. This is actually a pretty huge accomplishment for Jehan.

Jehan just being Jehan.

See? Notre-Dame de Paris has lots of cool stuff, Les Miserables. It doesn't need your star-studded premieres or forthcoming Oscar statuettes. In fact, once Frollo cracks the riddle of alchemy, they can have all the solid gold Oscar statuettes they want!

And to be honest, Notre-Dame being the forgotten sibling to Les Miz seems to be an American/British (or just English-speaking?) issue. Notre-Dame, from what I could see during my trips to France, is a bigger BFD in France. The Maison de Victor Hugo is scant on Les Miz artifacts, but full of awesome Notre-Dame stuff like the above Couder panel, early editions, and this poster:

It was in a stairwell and also I am a terrible photographer, ok?
Quasi's at the top, then we've got Frollo, Djali, Esmeralda, Phoebus,
and Jehan being drunk in the background.

The big reason Les Miz is so popular in America is definitely the musical (you think all the people psyched for Les Miz have slogged through Hugo's Waterloo and sewer lectures?). It's a great musical. And it's in English. Notre-Dame became a record-breaking, wildly popular (and more modern) musical in 1998, but it's in French, so we don't get much of it here. Maybe if a subtitled movie musical is made of that musical, we can get some Notre-Dame fever stateside. There is a subtitled DVD (je ne comprends pas bien francais?) I'm trying to track down, but fortunately some of it, like any recorded thing, is on Youtube. Here is the signature song, "Belle," in which Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus creep on Esmeralda while sounding amazing:

So obviously Notre-Dame is doing just fine in its home country. And hey, Notre-Dame de Paris is the novel of outcasts! While Fantine is raiding Lady Gaga's prop room for premiere press is the perfect time for Notre-Dame to be tragically relegated in the secure yet cold embrace of the cathedral's walls.

Etchings: various public domain, both accredited to Gustave Brion thought not sure about the first
Grumpy Cat: all the majesty of the universe and the internets
Statue: Esmeralda and Her Goat by Antonio Rossetti
Painting & poster: my own terrible photos from the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hawkeye Initiative: a Beautiful and Confident Speedo

If you even slightly brush up against comics & geek culture, you might have seen word of an Initiative...a very sexy initiative...

Bow-chicka-wow-wow! Sexxxy leg-lifting by Xahn. And Greg Land.

It's...the Hawkeye Initiative! And it's pretty genius. Critically thinking comic fans have challenged the objectification of women in comics for a very, very long time. From Friends of Lulu and the countless women profiled in Trina Robbins's great From Girls to Grrlz, to Women in Refrigerators, to more recent entries like Fuck No Greg Land and Escher Girls and Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters, feminist comic fans have tried to get across to creators, publishers, and other readers why the art form's objectification of women is shitty. But it's been a difficult battle. The usual response is along the lines of "but men in comics are objectified too!!!" And then this gem is whipped out like a rock-hard Gotham City Sirens boobie*:

Rob Liefeld don't need no life sketching.

But, as Noelle Stevenson (creator of my one of my fav webcomics, Nimona) points out, the whole point of "objectification" is right there in the word: object. It doesn't mean "unrealistic" or even "wearing Spandex." It means object. Which is what, as much as some like to deny it, women are often viewed as. Objects. Things. Things to be pretty (no matter what!). Things that are supposed to smile at you. Things to have sex with. Things to provide boobs. And it's pretty clear in comics that female characters, no matter how supposedly powerful, are sex things. Sex things for the consumption of young male comic book readers, as Michael Chabon pointed out in his novel about the beginnings of comics, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. So while male superheroes are typically depicted in poses of power and strength, female superheroes are often shown more as pin-ups** than warriors - and not just any pin-ups, but pin-ups twisted into bizarre, boneless shapes meant to show off their boobs and butts. Their main purpose is to titillate, not show heroics or tell a story.

But for those still in denial, the difference between male characters' powerful ripped bodies and Spandex and the objectification female characters are subjected to is made all the clearer by the simple act of switching the characters' poses. This isn't entirely new (awesome guy Kevin Bolk subjected the bepenised Avengers to the Black Widow's fate in this much-shared work and other awesome guy David Willis explored what the female gaze would mean for male characters), but by throwing having-a-moment archer Hawkeye into the shoes of various female comic book characters, the movement has found its mascot.

By Lauren Armstrong. Ah, remember the frenzied defense of the original?

So, sorry, but people who see women as people read comics, and they're not going away. In fact, some of them make some pretty awesome comics.

*btw, here is a great comic with boobies that look like boobies
**yes, pin-ups can be fun and sexy and even feminist, but that's another discussion