I dreamed a dream…


To say that I was looking forward to seeing Les Miserable in the cinema is an understatement.  An excitable theater geek, I knew that I would be blown away by Tom Hooper’s screen  adaptation of this much-beloved musical, particularly with Hugh Jackman at the helm of the impressive cast.

Alas, I was not blown away.  I did experience moments of (excruciating) empathy, but I was not transported somewhere magical, as I had hoped and anticipated.

This is a dis-jointed film. Yes, there are moments of brilliance – such as Anne Hathaway’s extraordinary rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream” – but in between those moments the narrative and the energy of the film lag. While the play moves seamlessly between scenes, the film is a clash of styles and locations – some of which are hyper-realistic and others like a theater set.

Disappointingly, Hooper’s overuse of close ups begins in scene one and continues for the next three hours. Yes, these characters are experiencing the worst of what people could possibly endure. But extreme closeups detach them from the horror; the context gets lost and so does the emotional impact. When Marius sings “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” – arguably Eddie Redmayne’s most impactful moment – we lose the sense that he is all alone in an empty room, because the camera is focused so tightly on his face.

Even the death of Gavroche loses impact because of photographic choices. What is so poignant about this moment is that he is a little boy. If the frame is too tight, we lose sight of how small he is in relation to that massive barricade.  And the rousing rowdiness of “Master of the House” is lost to a series of close-ups and quick edits. Only the final scene comes close to capturing what is so brilliant about the ensemble work in Les Miserable – they finally get to be an ensemble.

It may seem that I would have preferred to see something more like a filming of the stage version. No. However, I did expect that the medium of film would have been used to elevate the material more effectively.

The cast was also a mish-mash of talents and singing abilities. Hugh Jackman brings something to Valjean I have never seen, with the inner demons doing battle in his eyes. And while I still maintain that close up is over-used in this film, Cohen (the D.O.P.) and Hooper capture Jackman’s beautifully-honed performance thoroughly. In contrast, Russel Crowe’s performance is weak and self-conscious. He swallows his words when he sings and his eyes are vacant. Some might argue that this is an acting choice, but one of his character’s defining moment’s, “Stars”, is bland and a throw-away performance.

Stand-outs, not surprisingly, included actors who come from the stage, Samantha Barks as Eponine and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, as well as the plucky Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. Tveit, in particular, lends a weight to Enjolras that makes us believe his contemporaries would follow him into battle – and he has a divine singing voice.  Redmayne and Seyfried, as the star-crossed lovers, shine most when they are not singing, “A Heart Full of Love” – Redmayne in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” where his heartbreak at the loss of his friends is wholly believable, and Seyfried at the death of her father, Valjean.

Lastly, Anne Hathaway is sublime. I started teaching Drama in 1994 and since, I have sought out examples of actors connecting thoughts to their words. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” – a song I have heard dozens, if not hundreds of times – is a perfect example of excellence. It made me hear the song for the first time. Yes, I think that the scene was shot too closely. But that is not her fault.

On the whole I enjoyed seeing this film, but I expected to be breathless, speechless, and a weepy mess by the end. Alas, I was not.

New Year’s Absolutions 2013

Two years ago, I wrote a post exonerating myself from the resolutions I would typically expect myself to make at the start of a new year. For some reason I skipped this step at the start of this 2012, but as we approach 2013, I revisit the idea of absolving myself of things that are fruitless or frustrating pursuits.

I hereby absolve myself of the following:

  1. Watching anything that has a hobbit in it. When the first trilogy came out, I was dating an awful man and I pathetically pretended to like the films to please him. Now I am with a wonderful man who doesn’t expect me to like everything he does.  Hobbits just bug me. They’re so, well, hobbity.
  2. Hoarding (just in case). As we are about to move internationally, we must pare back to the essentials. For a start, some things are cheaper to replace than to ship overseas. Plus, Australian Customs will charge you $150 to clean or destroy a $15 chopping board, so I am becoming less attached to things. We will be giving away a lot of things that I love – like our beautiful coffee tree – but when all is said and done, they are just things. Most important is that we are moving as a family (2 adults, 1 cat).
  3. Having a spotless home. I need to hold myself to this one. Our home is typically neat, tidy and fairly clean. There are times, however, when I need to be less fastidious and more focused on more important pursuits, like writing, visiting with friends, taking care of my health, keeping in contact with loved ones overseas, being helpful, and being a loving partner.
  4. Being (overly) prepared. I plan ahead. I make lists and I plan. I need to plan ahead, or if someone else is making the plan, at least to know what the plan is. Yes, being prepared can be essential, but sometimes it drives me to distraction (and sleeplessness – see my last post). I want to find an equilibrium.  Somewhere between attending to dozens of details so our cat can immigrate to Australia (a process tailored for the detail-oriented) and choosing the type of bed we will buy in three months for our new guest room, is a happy medium.
  5. Being Superwoman. No matter how hard I try – and I try very hard – I cannot do everything. I have no magic lasso, no invisible plane, and no golden cuffs to deflect the bullets. I must ask for help, I must give myself a break, and I must say ‘no’ more often. (I think #3 and #4 go hand-in-hand with this one.)

Just re-tracing my 2011 absolutions, I am thinking of buying a bike when we get to Melbourne. It is relatively flat, with lots of bike trails, and reasonably dry weather when compared with Seattle. Also, I not only finished Chapter 7, I have finished up to Chapter 16 and am still going strong. I no longer absolve myself finishing my book. In fact, it is the number two goal I have for 2013, right after ‘move the family to Melbourne and get settled’.

There’s no place like home

Somewhere in Australia is an HR specialist who has gone on holiday for two weeks. I don’t know this person. In fact, I have never spoken to her, but her holiday is keeping me up at night. You see, she is the person who is responsible for submitting Ben’s work visa application so we can move as a family to Australia. And, she told us the Friday before Christmas that she would do that when she ‘got back from holidays’ on January 7th.

I don’t begrudge this stranger her holidays, but I am pretty sure she doesn’t understand that the delay – holding off until then, rather than ensuring she got it done before she went away – means that we cannot book our flights to Australia, we can’t book the 30-days quarantine for our cat, because we don’t want the 30 days to be up before we can arrive in Australia, and we can’t finalise the date to put our stuff on a ship, because we want to limit the time we spend out of our naked apartment and in a hotel.

To move a family of two adults and one cat from Seattle to Melbourne is quite a feat, and at the moment there are so many unknowns that I run through all the permutations of possible outcomes in my head at 3 am when I wish I was sleeping.  The worries are compounded when I add job hunting overseas, an expiring U.S. visa, international banking and investments, Australian Customs rules and recommendations, house-hunting in a new city, and saying good bye to loved ones in Seattle.

I would love to borrow Dorothy’s ruby slippers for a moment. As someone straddling two homes, I just want to tap my feet together three times and wake up in my (new) home in Melbourne in three months’ time. I know, I know: don’t wish my life away…



Why I love watching HGTV (and why I don’t blame you if you don’t)







Earlier this year, I visited an old friend in LA – not that she is old – she is my age and we are certainly not old – we have just known each other for a long time.  She loves HGTV and she had it on in the background throughout much of the time I was there – pretty much whenever we weren’t at Target (but that’s another blog post). Over the three-day weekend I discovered Property Brothers, I discovered House Hunters (including the international variety) and I discovered Love it, or List it. When I returned to Seattle after only a short time away, I surely baffled Ben who had always known me as a Food Network junkie. Sure, I still watched Chopped from the DVR, but any moment I needed to chillax for a spell, I tuned to HGTV instead.

So, what’s the appeal for me?

One: Makeovers!

As Oprah knows, makeovers make television gold. Take someone who has let themself go – or who never really had themself in hand in the first place – and hand them over to the experts for a coat of spit and polish. Voila! Fascinating, heart-warming, inspiring television. HGTV is like that but for homes. I cannot believe what can be accomplished by a television personality and their crew of 40 people in 5 weeks with a budget of $50000! Incredible, beautiful makeovers of previously uninhabitable properties. Amazing! And all edited together in an easily digested package for my viewing pleasure. If I am on a time budget, I will skip the actual making over, and just cringe in horror at the ‘before’ and then exclaim delight in the ‘after’. It is the extremeness of the contrast that tickles me.

Two: Assholes intrigue me

I always wonder what it must be like to be an asshole and then go on TV and show the world how much of an asshole you are. I don’t know why these people intrigue me so much, but perhaps in some odd way I vicariously live through their public assholery. Assholes on HGTV include 20-somethings who stand in cavernous en suite bathrooms with two sinks, enough storage for all their asshole products, a spa bath and a separate shower and say things like, “This isn’t very big, I definitely need a bathroom bigger than this.”

Or, the people who insist that if the house doesn’t have crown molding then they can’t possibly be expected to live there. I hadn’t even heard of crown molding until I started watching HGTV regularly – and I would hazard a guess that the assholes hadn’t either. Assholes also include young-ish people who see a perfectly good kitchen – one less than a decade old – and sigh in disappointment because it doesn’t have a commercial stove or granite counter tops. My uncle has a commercial stove, which he finally got when he was about 55, because he wanted to invest in his culinary pursuits – and it is something he uses every day (he is an awesome amateur chef, by the way).

Three: I learn stuff

I like seeing how people in other parts of the country – and other parts of the world – live. HGTV provides anthropological tutelage; one could even say that they are providing a valuable community service.

Also, I get so many ideas from HGTV. I am not talking about DIY projects. I hate DIY as much as I hate gardening. I am talking about tips on how to style your home. I take pride in having a nicely put-together home and I learn new stuff all the time on HGTV. #1 tip for having a beautiful home? Put your sh*t away. There’s a difference between your stuff – which can be displayed stylishly to make your place feel like a home – and your sh*t. No one wants to see your sh*t – not even your spouse, so put it away.

Sidebar: My dad taught me this one: he and my step-mum each have a drawer where they can put their miscellaneous sh*t. Ben and I have adopted this tip and it works really well for keeping clutter (i.e. each others’ sh*t) out of sight. Items that go in the drawer may include sunglasses, opened mail, unopened mail, coupons, spare keys, an address book, post-its, lip balm, a pocket knife, a silly plastic toy that I won from an arcade game, and so on. Feel free to steal this idea. HGTV should steal this idea. But I digress…

Four: It’s harmless (and often mindless) fun

Our move across the world takes up a considerable amount of brain power. We are dealing with logistics and paperwork and job hunting and price comparisons, so a little bit of mindless entertainment is good these days. Ben has ‘The Big Bang Theory’. I have HGTV.

Disclaimer: Yes I know that a lot of it is faked, or rather,  ‘reconstructed’ for television

I know that the couples featured on House Hunters are not really house-hunting – they have already chosen their property and are simply recreating the search for a television audience. I tend to skip the loosely-scripted discussions and skip right to the tours of the three properties. The show gives a great overview of the lifestyle in that location. Again, anthropological = interesting.

I am also sure that Drew (or Jonathon – I don’t know which one is which) on Property Brothers doesn’t really broker a sale as quickly or easily as he seems to on television. I don’t care. The rest of their show is cool.

So, judge me or don’t; it is my (not-so) guilty pleasure.