Friday, 28 December 2012

Emma (2009)

After receiving an HMV gift voucher for Christmas from my aunt and uncle, I decided that I would replenish my period drama collection (not the 'coolest' thing I've ever done, but then I'm not really) and first on my list was the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Emma'.
The basic plot of 'Emma' is this: "Emma Woodhouse, beautiful, clever, and rich, has very little to concern her. When her governess marries advantageously, Emma congratulates herself on her great success as a matchmaker. So, when she meets the pretty, naive, and socially inferior Harriet, Emma is ready to practise her skills again - ignoring warnings of the harm she could cause from friend and neighbour, Mr Knightley.
As she sets about meddling with the affairs of the village of Highbury, Emma carves a trail of confusion, disappointment and disaster that risks Harriet’s happiness, and much to her surprise, her own happiness too. As our heroine embarks on a journey that challenges her naivety and her social preconceptions it leads her to realise that she has become so focused on the lives of others that she has failed to see what’s in front of her own eyes.." (Amazon)
Since buying it yesterday, I've watched this 4-hour-long mini-series twice the whole way through, and it's brilliant. I just love it. Although, in general, I'm not much of an Austen fan - I can't abide the book 'Pride and Prejudice', although I enjoyed the 1995 Colin Firth adaptation, and I found 'Sense and Sensibility' really quite boring. However, after watching this version of 'Emma', I'm strongly considering giving the book a go. 
One of the greatest things about this adaptation is that it's absolutely hilarious. The humour is subtle in places and more obvious in others, providing a nice mix which makes it watchable for all. Mostly, the comic moments are making fun of the society of Austen's time and so what makes it funnier is that the characters in the series aren't supposed to know that they're being made fun of.
Another factor that I loved about this adaptation was the almost constant presence of beautiful men in this series. Mr Knightly, Mr Elton and Frank Churchill all completely make the series for me, and the parts are so brilliantly acted. Jonny Lee Miller as Knightly was particularly brilliant and basically I'm going to spend my life waiting for my very own Mr Knightly, as much of a long shot as that is. The dancing scene (shown below) is just complete perfection and the tiny adjustments of facial expressions from both Miller and Romola Garai (playing Emma) say so much. The music in the scene is also absolutely beautiful, and the whole scene put together never fails to make me smile and cheer me up when I'm feeling down. 
Emma's hypochondriac father is played in this series by the fantastic Michael Gambon (from Harry Potter). However, it was odd at times to hear the fearless Dumbledore worrying about who might catch a cold if they went to the seaside. I suppose this added to the comedy in some ways and was a testament to Gambon's ability to act diverse characters. 
If I had to find a problem with this series - it's hard to find one - I did find the ending a little contradictory as, one moment Harriet is proclaiming her love for one man, and the next she has completely forgotten him and marries another man, whom she, only a few minutes before, said she could never contemplate being with. I'm not sure if this is a fault in the book, or simply a problem of lack of time in the series resulting in cuts having to be made and stories not being explained as well as they could have been. Either way, this doesn't really detract that much from the story as the ending is so beautiful. I just love it.
I will admit though, this story is quite 'girly' since it's a romance and I'm not sure if many men would be that keen on it - at least they probably would't admit to liking it. But, for me, this is pretty much as good as period drama gets and it was absolutely fantastic; I would recommend it to any of my friends, and the series has the ability to cheer you up, even when you're feeling at your lowest. 9/10.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Downton Abbey: A Journey to the Highlands

I'll start with the warning that there will be **SPOILERS** in this post because I can't really write this review without them; some very significant things happened which I don't want to just gloss over. 
On the whole I was thoroughly disappointed with this Downton episode, especially when compared to the epic that was last years Christmas special. I think one of the major problems was the simple fact that it was set at the height of summer, not Christmas. Part of the beauty of last years episode was that it was seasonal and there was an enormous Christmas tree; everything was festive and happy and there were so many more issues to be addressed so the story could be developed. In comparison, this year the family and some servants journeyed to Scotland to stay with the Earl of Grantham's friend, 'Shrimpie' (really Downton, 'Shrimpie'?). Meanwhile, the majority of the servants stayed home at Downton abbey, using the two hour episode to go to  the fair. Yay. Allotting two hours (actually much less than that considering there was one minute of adverts for every three minutes of Downton yesterday, seriously ITV?) to the show was absolutely fine with me, in fact, I was thrilled. But when it came to it, absolutely nothing happened in the whole show before the final three minutes, which then left me so depressed I wished I hadn't bothered.
This is Christmassy...
And why did this Christmas special leave me so depressed? Matthew died. Julian Fellowes killed off the main character. What are they playing at? I mean, I respect that Dan Stevens (the actor who played Matthew) had decided to end his contract after three series, but did they really have to kill him off in such a dramatic manner, not a minute after meeting his son and heir for the first, and last, time. And at Christmas? Throughout series 3 it would appear that Downton has turned into an upper-class Eastenders - a child can't be born without one of their parents dying minutes later. My point is that last years episode left me happy and contented at the end of Christmas day, whereas, this year, I was left numb and in shock, with only a box of Quality Street to cheer me up. Even Fellowes' attempt to add Christmas cheer with the birth of Mary and Matthew's first child (I think he was attempting to go for the juxtaposition of this scene with the birth of Jesus) fell flat due to the death of the father immediately afterwards. Viewers were barely allowed to enjoy the scene of the happy family together for a minute before foreshadowing comments began pouring in and everybody immediately knew what was going to happen. Great. Very Christmassy.
... This is not.
Another problem I have is that Fellowes' writing of the series has become almost painful. The most cringe-worthy lines in the past series including Matthew's lines that "now [he and Mary] can start making babies", to a comment in the Christmas special: "I know you're nice because I've seen you naked". I mean really? How much more cheesy can the writing get? And since when has seeing someone naked been a good way to judge how nice a person is?
I feel I should mention some of the positives of the episode though: the setting was beautiful, although perhaps lacking in that very little of the episode was shot at Highclere Castle (the location of Downton Abbey); the costumes were, as always, stunning and exactly on period. I also feel I should mention Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) for their fantastic acting in this episode - the scenes they shared were brilliant and very funny. This actually brings me on to another disappointment with this episode: there was very little from Dame Maggie Smith. The usually hilarious Dowager Countess was barely used and, as a result, this episode was hugely lacking in the comedy aspect which, considering the lack of action and bleak ending, was sorely missed.
The 2011 Christmas Special... more of this please
I'm going to stop now because this post has basically been one long rant. But, the point I'm trying to make is this, since when did Christmas specials turn into bleak, depressing shows that make you want to go and die in a hole, rather than programmes that make you happy and contented? Quiet honestly, I would take a 'Vicar of Dibley' box set over these depressing new Downton episodes any day (luckily a Christmas special of the former show was programmed after the latter to cheer me up again). I just don't understand why, as the series has gone on, the story lines have become more and more bleak; what was once a relaxing escapism has now become more like an episode of Casualty. Although, as I saw somebody mention earlier today, the blood used was very realistic, which of course makes up for everything. 
Don't get me wrong, I adore Downton. It's been my favourite show for a while now, but I don't know if I can take much more of the empty plot lines before a dramatic death in the last minutes. So, considering how great I know Downton can be (last years Christmas special I'm looking at you), I'm going to be harsh: 5/10.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Hugo (2011)

Sitting today wrapping Christmas presents I decided I needed a distraction, and what did Sky Anytime have in store for me? Martin Scorsese's 2011 movie 'Hugo'. Starring 'The Boy in Striped Pajamas'' Asa Butterfield, 'Hugo' was adapted from Brian Selznick's novel 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret', which is, I believe, based on the true story of Georges Melies, a french pioneer filmmaker. The summary given of the film on Amazon is this: "Hugo is the astonishing adventure of a wily and resourceful orphan boy whose quest to unlock a secret left to him by his father will transform Hugo and all those around him". I would say that's a pretty good description as there are quite a few layers to the story - reflected in the rather long run time of 126 minutes - however, I was very disappointed to see the film has only reached 3.5 stars on the website as I would say it was worth far more than this.
Butterfield puts in another fantastic performance and it always strikes me that he can act far beyond his years, easily and tactfully tackling tender subjects, such as the Holocaust in 'The Boy in Striped Pajamas' and orphanage in 'Hugo'. He really is a fantastic actor and I hope he'll continue to be brilliant in all of his future projects. 
Another great actor in the film came in the form of  the hilarious and incredibly versatile Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector. Cohen appears to have an unerring ability to act any role thrown at him, from the comical character of the Station Inspector in 'Hugo' (although he is also given tender moments, for example when explaining to Lisette how he came to have a permanently injured leg) to the evil Pirelli in 'Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' and Thenardier in the upcoming 'Les Miserables' film.
This film is absolutely full of fantastic actors, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Ray Winstone are among those in addition to the above mentioned. And, despite having a relatively minor role, Jude Law's character has a huge influence on the story as Hugo's father; this element of the story is also absolutely heart breaking and, as always, Law is fantastic. 
However, some people have said that this film shouldn't have been rated a U as some elements of it are a little scary. For example, a major part of the story are figures called automatons (shown below), basically miniature human figures made out of metal, kind of a cross between the robots in 'I-robot' and a Svengali doll, whose staring eyes are actually quite scary and, I imagine, could frighten any children watching the film without an adult. There are also a couple of scenes in which Hugo is dreaming which could scare younger viewers, and actually had me jumping out of my seat and yelling at the television, so perhaps it would have been better if the film was rated PG. But, if I'm honest, I think this is an unimportant detail.
Hugo's automaton
The cinematography in this film was fantastic; scenes inside and outside clocks and panoramic views of Paris jump out at me as those which were the best scenic shots. It really is a beautiful film that was brilliantly put together, flowing seamlessly between different scenes, often following a running Hugo through the station or streets of Paris, which I really liked as it allows the viewer to feel as though they are part of the film. I suppose setting the film in a train station was also a key element in this as it would be entirely plausible to see the audience as passing strangers on their own journeys, simply taking a moment to stop and watch the events going on around them. 
So basically, this is a fantastic film which I would highly recommend to anyone - don't be put off by the fact that it's a U if you're 'not into' kids films, this one really is brilliant and actually surprisingly complex for a children's movie. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the sneaky 'Les Mis' mention when young girl Isabelle announces "I feel like Jean Valjean" when on her way to the clock tower with Hugo; this pretty much made the film for me as I'm such a huge 'Les Miserables' fan. 
I have decided since my last review that it would make sense for me to start rating the things I review out of ten as well, so for Hugo: 9/10.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Life of Pi

I decided to read this book before seeing the new Ang Lee film, scheduled for release on 20 December 2012 here in the UK. I was really excited to read it after the high praise given by reviewers on Amazon and the proclamation that "this book will make you believe in God" - with a statement like that it's got to be a good book right?
And it was a good book, it really was, if a little confusing, and not only in terms of plot. The basic premise is of a boy, Pi Patel (so called due to teasing when he was a child) who's ship sinks when his family are moving their zoo from India to Canada. The rest of the story is that of Pi on a life boat for almost 300 days.. with a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger, interestingly named Richard Parker., for company. (It may sound stupid but I didn't actually realise tigers were as dangerous as is made out in the book, but as it turns out, they are - and it's quite an important element of the story, so, yes, tigers are dangerous). From the plot alone you can see that, at over 450 pages long, the book has the potential to get very boring in places, and it did, but what confused me most was that there was always something pulling me in and drawing me back to carry on with the book. There's something about this book that just won't let you put it down.
Yann Martel's writing was certainly a factor in urging me to continue reading; it was clear he was writing about something he truly believes in, his writing has reason and purpose and Martel just comes across as being really quite wise. Some of the most inspirational quotes include "if there's only one nation in the sky, shouldn't all passports be valid for it?" and "love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?" I should also mention, as you can probably see from the quotes, this book is very religious so if your not into that kind of thing, maybe this book isn't for you, although I would still strongly recommend it. 
The ending to 'Life of Pi' is one of the best I have ever read. Unlike most books, the story doesn't just end - there's an enormous twist which, if you've invested in the story, could completely change the way you think about life. However, that's the thing with this book. You have to go into it wanting it to be more than just a nice story, you need to completely invest in the characters and open yourself up to Yann Martel's narrative. You have to want to be caught up in the story, and, I'm afraid, this is something I didn't do - I didn't particularly want to be preached to. Supposedly Pi's story is meant to seem irrational and unreliable, but this thought never even occurred to me - at times I supposed, due to lack of food, he must be a little delirious but, other than that, I had absolute trust in him and his narration. Apparently this affects interpretation of the ending of the story - which is supposed to pack a punch but, in all honesty, it left me completely baffled. It took until I googled 'Life of Pi ending' and read some discussion on the topic for me to really understand the message Martel was trying to get across and, once I understood, the book still managed to pack that punch. I look at that as another great thing about this book: perhaps it's supposed to leave you utterly bewildered to begin with, before shedding a little light after extra thought on the subject. I guess this also means that, based on interpretation, the book can be different for every single reader but still resonate. It's universal.
Surprisingly, considering the subject matter, 'Life of Pi' also had some quite amusing moments. For example the story of how Pi came to be known as Pi, and the closing chapters which feature a Japanese comedy duo. In this way Martel cleverly changes the mood between bleak and cheerful almost seamlessly. 
So, overall, 'Life of Pi' is a good book, perhaps with some less riveting bits, but it makes you think. Although I'm not sure it will stay with me as long as it promised to, it was definitely worth the read. I would also agree with the statement that it's an "unfilmable" story, so the film should be an interesting one - it definitely looks like it'll be visually stunning.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Phantom of the Opera Movie (2004)

I should probably say, I started watching this film with an already biased opinion that the 25th anniversary performance of 'The Phantom of the Opera' would be better than this film - and it was - but I'll try to overlook this while I'm writing the review and look at the film as if it was my first experience of Phantom. Incidentally, I'm very glad it wasn't because I found the movie plot so confusing, if I didn't know the story I would have absolutely no clue what was going on - this is probably true of when I watched the 25th as well but I don't remember being quite as confused back then. Another major problem for me was the Phantom's deformity, if you can call it that. It just wasn't there, he wasn't deformed at all, it just looked like he had a bad sunburn on half of his face - compare this to Ramin's deformity in the 25th anniversary and it becomes more obvious why Christine feels the need for Raoul's protection and love, which isn't really made obvious in the movie since, until the finale, Butler's Phantom is far more attractive than Raoul ever is. 
Gerard Butler unmasked
One thing I was disappointed by which I didn't expect to be was the sets and the scenery. Despite at times helping to explain events in the story better than the stage show can - due to the fact that the sets can easily be moved between and characters do not have to stay the same for large periods of time, I constantly found myself wishing more had been made of the ability to have beautiful sets because, well, they were pretty average, especially the Opera House and the Phantom's Lair, which could have been stunning.
One of my first thoughts at the beginning of the film was that it was quite good. I loved that the first scene was in black and white and, oddly, the older Raoul was the best actor in the whole film (he has less than 5 minutes screen time) as he could actually act and his pain was obvious his face and eyes alone.
Ramin Karimloo unmasked
Another thing I really liked was that Ramin Karimloo (the Phantom in the 25th anniversary performance and one of the best ones ever) was Christine's dad in this film. Although his 'part' was literally being in a photo - if you're getting someone as good as Ramin to be in the film, they could have at least expanded his role - maybe Christine could have had one of those flashbacks the director seemed so keen on, or something? And considering Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved in the production of the film, I don't see why writing another song in would have been such a problem. 
A little song from Ramin would have been especially welcome in this film since the singing was pretty awful, really - and the miming along with it terrible, particularly Emmy Rossum as Christine. Most of the time I thought they were having the singing as background whilst she acted, but then I realised she was supposed to be miming. Her voice wasn't that great either, with absolutely no feeling coming through in the majority of her scenes. You would also think the singing would be better since they had the chance to perfect it in the recording rooms and could sing it a number of times, whereas in the stage show it's once or nothing - but, no, it really was bad. Gerard Butler was also clearly only cast for his looks - ironic since he's playing the Phantom. In the book, the main thing about the Phantom is his amazing tone and the wonderful quality in his voice, but with Butler he was just shouting the entire time. And most annoyingly, he was shouting on the notes that were supposed to be big and powerfully sung. But then, at times when he was supposed to be shouting for emphasis, he ended up either singing weakly or speaking the lines. Gahh, it's so annoying!
Another problem I had with the singing and speaking of different lines was mainly when Meg said "it's the Phantom of the Opera..." This made me angry beyond belief - the Phantom is supposed to be absolutely terrifying, which then makes Christine and Raoul's relationship deeper because he becomes her 'protector'. In the film it comes across that the Phantom is like a slightly interesting next door neighbour who comes out sometimes, that old women like to talk about in their spare time. It really is like they're just talking about someone who's a bit odd - not the Phantom of the Opera. Another moment where Meg was disappointing was during 'Angel of Music' when her and Christine are singing at the same time whilst walking down a corridor. It's hilarious. Due to Christine's overly large dress and the fact that the pair are trying to walk down the corridor next to each other, they kind of waddle along trying to fit in the tiny space.
Masquerade was another disappointment - in film why on earth did they choose to dress the whole company in black and white!? There was the opportunity for so much more but this was just overlooked. Also in this scene the main cast members were not part of THE dance. The masquerade dance. They just weren't part of it, with Christine and Raoul taking this one bit further by kissing through some of it - they should be joining in and being a part of the opera company, otherwise they just come across as being detached and excluded from the whole thing.
Skipping out the whole of the middle of the movie - the majority of which was completely underwhelming, and the rest just average - my main problem with this movie was the finale in the Phantom's lair. This scene usually has the capacity to make me cry (in fact, every time I see it I feel myself welling up). But in this case it was so bad. The Phantom is trying to kill the man Christine is 'in love with' and she just stands there on the bank not wanting to get her feet wet, if you were to read her thoughts it comes across that she would be saying "I love you, I really do, but, you're in the water and it looks so cold!" Emmy Rossum also decided to kiss the Phantom from the angle that looks like she really wanted to - I personally wasn't particularly keen on this since I've always been a Raoul supporter, but anyone can she why she would rather be with the Phantom in this version, Patrick Wilson plays such a weak Raoul - many people have described him as 'wet', which I would agree with. 
Also, the way Butler delivered some of his lines in the finale really disappointed me. The words "a face which earned a mother's fear and loathing, a mask my first unfeeling scrap of clothing" always, always make me cry when Ramin sings them, but here they were rushed and just didn't have the same effect. He also delivered the line "Christine I love you" with the "love" stretching across only one syllable - it's so much more powerful when it's delivered across three ("lo-o-ove"), it's so beautiful when it's done like that. 
I'm going to stop now because this has become way too long, but I had a lot to say about this that annoyed me. Honestly, if you want to see the sensational 'Phantom of the Opera' please watch the 25th anniversary production at the Royal Albert Hall (a video link to the finale of this version is above) instead of the movie. My favourite song in the musical - 'All I ask of you' - can show you the difference straight away, while in the movie having very little emotion and really not standing out at all (video left), in the 25th anniversary (video above) it gave me chills and stayed with me for weeks after I'd first seen it. Hadley Fraser and Sierra Boggess (Raoul and Christine in the latter production) also became huge favourites of mine afterwards. Seriously, watch the 25th instead, it's amazing. I also realise I've clogged this post with a load of videos and pictures, most of which are not from the actual film I'm supposed to be reviewing, but I love the 25th anniversary production so much I just had to put them in.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I began this book with really quite high expectations; reviewers on the internet were raving about it, friends were raving about it, and it was being made into a film. It had everything going for it. But, in the end, I found it quite underwhelming. The basic plot is of 'wallflower' Charlie, who isn't the biggest geek but has no friends since his friend committed suicide in the summer. That is, no friends until he meets Sam and Patrick who soon become his best friends in a world of "sex, drugs and the Rocky Horror Picture Show".
It was written well, there's no doubting that, and some of the quotes are just fantastic: "we accept the love we think we deserve" and "in that moment I swear we were infinite" being the most memorable. But other than that the book really was quite forgettable. 
I think part of the problem was the stereotypical and really quite boring characters. I'm not sure if Charlie, the main character, had a mental illness or if he was simply suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as it has been suggested by some readers, the possibility for which is explained at the end of the book. However, if Charlie does have some kind of disorder, it's not put well enough to make it clear - I also can't help but make comparisons with 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' by Mark Haddon, which, in my opinion, is written far better.
But it wasn't just the main character I had a problem with, I just didn't particularly like Patrick and Sam, Charlie's best friends; anything that happened to them, I just didn't care, the characters had no effect on me whatsoever. They were stereotypical teenagers with nothing special about them to set them apart and make them interesting subjects for a book. For me it's normal if the characters in a story stay with me for at least a day after the end of the book, but, in this case, within 2 hours of finishing I'd forgotten that I'd even read the book until I saw it on my desk - never a good sign. 
I also thought the ending was very rushed, the reason for Charlie's difficulties in life is quickly and ambiguously alluded to a page from the end, and due to the fact that the reveal isn't explicit many readers have said they miss this completely. To be fair, I do think it is pretty hard to miss when you're paying attention, but  honestly there wasn't much going on so it is quite easy for your attention to drift. Here, the format of the book became a problem. It is written through a series of letters from Charlie which are addressed 'Dear friend' and so to begin with it can be assumed he is writing in a diary, but at the end it becomes clear this is not the case. Anyway, that Charlie is writing the letters means that, unlike if the book was written in first person narrative with an all-knowing persona speaking, the whole story cannot be revealed to the reader, although I suppose it was a more original idea and allows more room for different interpretations. 
Additionally, I didn't find inside the book what was implied by the title.What exactly are the perks of being a wallflower? The whole book is based around Charlie's moving away from this idea, and since he was considering suicide at this point I don't think there were many perks. The overall message I took from the book was the need for everybody to "participate" in life, so I don't really understand why we are told there are any perks to being a wallflower. Unless, of course, Sam and Patrick are also to be considered wallflowers, but I find this a difficult idea to get my head around as they are popular and 'normal' teenagers.

I have to say, though, the film does look quite good - it was part of the reason for me wanting to read the book - and the screenplay was written by the book's author and I believe it was directed by him too, so I am planning to watch that and hopefully it will be better than the frankly disappointing book.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Vanity Fair

I want to start by mentioning the recently released Penguin English Library books which are absolutely beautiful. Unlike most penguin books which sport black spines, the new books are brightly coloured and feature a different design and colour for each book. The collection is basically 100 of the best novels written in the English language and lots of relatively unknown books are included which is great because I find these are often quite difficult to get hold of. 
But, Vanity Fair. Where to start? My initial reaction to Thackeray's 1840s novel was that it was terrible. Absolutely awful. Any story line he tried to include fell flat, soon withered away into nothing and was quickly forgotten about - never good with such a large book (it's about 900 pages long), but that was my lasting memory when I finished the book. I would give an overview of the plot but it doesn't really exist so I'll just type up the blurb: Becky Sharp is sly, cunning and will do anything for money and power, while her friend Amelia Sedley is good-natured but naive. In this scandalous tale of murder  wealth and social climbing, the two women's fortunes cross as they search for love and success across nineteenth-century Europe in the Napoleonic Wars.
"A novel without a hero"
With most books I think it helps if you actually like the characters but with Vanity Fair it was made almost impossible. I do think this was Thackeray's intention with the majority of the characters though, with the exception of Dobbin perhaps. Dobbin, it is made clear, cannot be a part of Vanity Fair (an invention of Thackeray's meant to reflect the upper-class circles) due to the large size of his feet, and so really lives in a different world to the other characters - although by the end even social-climbing rat Becky Sharp admits that she would consider Dobbin a worthy husband, despite his feet. It is clear that Dobbin's character is supposed to be likable and a mockery of society, I think Thackeray was trying to show Victorian people what they should be like because in comparison to the other characters he's described like some kind of God-like hero, and to begin with I did see him like this and I respected him, wanting him to make the best of situations and succeed by the end of the novel. But, to be honest, by the end I was just exasperated with him and his infatuation with the wimpy and unrealistic Amelia (also known as Emmy), although I did come to like him a bit more when he finally stood up for himself against Amelia's using of his love for her. I've read in quite a few places that other readers believe Amelia to have been Thackeray's favourite character, and its quite possible considering she was supposedly based on his wife, however, she is often presented as weak and annoying and to be honest I think Thackeray's real opinion of her is shown in his last words about her; he calls her a "parasite". I think that's a pretty accurate description to be honest since she can't survive without the love of a man and spends her whole life mourning her loathsome husband who was obviously cheating on his wife with Emmy's 'best friend', Becky Sharp.  Of course this little bit of action and intrigue made me anticipate some action - finally!! (at this point I was only about 350 pages through and already despairing) but no poor little Emmy just cried in Becky's arms. Thackeray has to be kidding right?? But no, the book goes on in this way for a full 800 pages before a tiny bit of action in the last 100, although using the word action is probably being a little generous. Even the murder mentioned on the back cover, the thought of which had kept me reading for 750 pages before, was only alluded to in a couple of paragraphs a few pages from the end. The ending is just a little rushed, to say the least.
Becky Sharp "living from nothing"
Although it probably doesn't sound like it, I hate to only look at the bad points of a book and Vanity Fair appears to be well loved so there must be some positives, right? So the other day I was thinking about it and decided that Thackeray's odd way of including major, life changing events and then almost skimming over them to make it appear like nothing happened must have some purpose. I see Vanity Fair as more of a social commentary than a conventional novel, so it's possible the glossing over of events was intended as a reflection of society covering up all the scandal that went on and was intended to make a mockery of this. The book also reminded me strongly of The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde (it was actually quite helpful to draw similarities between the two since I'm currently studying the play for my A-level course work) and the book is supposed to be satirical, only I found that I had to physically be looking for funny moments in order to notice them and, even then, only a few caused a wry smile - although I suppose it does take a lot for a book to make a laugh - but I think this was emphasised because the book is a bit outdated now.
Also, it is true that Vanity Fair would have been revolutionary in the Victorian era, for Becky Sharp - no matter how evil and utterly unlikable she was - to be in control of her husband and able to social climb from being the daughter of an artist and french dancer (very much frowned upon), to achieve being in the company of royals would have been a completely new idea. Everything Thackeray included can be linked back to making a mockery of society, so at the time I'm sure it was hilarious - that or absolutely shocking, although I suppose it was probably considered to be both. 
So in the end I would say that the problem I had with Vanity Fair was that it hasn't stood the test of time. To make fun of society is all very well and good, but I don't think this allows the book to apply to future generations - there are probably many moments that were hilarious at the time that completely went over my head. I must say, though, the book is very well written and Thackeray refreshingly uses the old style of addressing the reader which I liked, it almost makes you feel like you're a part of all the action - or in this case lack of it. But, to be honest, I don't think this is a book I will be reading again in a hurry, although 'never say never'.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Les Miserables

 Anybody who knows me will know that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Les Mis and everything to do with it. I HAD  to talk about it in my first post really, but don't worry I won't in every post, or at least, I'll try not to but I can't really promise anything. Having read the book twice and, shamefully, only seen it on stage once - I'm desperate to go again sometime soon - I love finding out more about it and embarrassingly often find myself searching 'Les Miserables' on Google just to find out the latest news or to do some research into an area of the book I'm particularly interested in - I just find other people's opinions on themes and characters so interesting.

If you're not familiar with the story, and I cannot recommend it enough, the basic plot is of Jean Valjean who breaks his parole and looks set to continue a life of recidivism until he meets a benevolent Bishop who changes his life completely. As well as Valjean there are many other characters including Javert, Fantine, Cosette, Marius, Eponine and Enjolras, each of whom have their own individual stories, all of which are beautifully written (particularly Fantine's) and each could be a different book in it's own right. But I do have to warn you, Les Mis is a little depressing, I won't tell you why because that would ruin it but, I mean,  who doesn't love a good cry every now and again? And to be honest, the more I've come to know the story, the more I see the ending as supremely happy and that what happens needed to happen, despite the original feelings of "why!!??" There's something for everyone, as you would probably expect with such a big book, including romance, redemption, compassion, social injustice and, most importantly I think, the idea of love getting you through everything, no matter how bad. Victor Hugo also writes so brilliantly that he allows you to invest in the characters in a way that I think is so rare and hard to find; there isn't a character you don't feel for, no matter what they do (actually I would say despite the Thenardier's who are so evil they could only be found in a book).
Anyway, if you're not really in the mood for a 1200+ page long book written in the mid-1800s, the genius' that are Claude-Michel Shonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer came together in the 1980s to bring the epic musical of the same name into existence with producer Cameron Mackintosh, of Cats and Phantom of the Opera. With songs including I Dreamed a Dream (remember Susan Boyle??) Bring Him Home, Do You Hear the People Sing and On my Own, to name some of the more well known ones, this musical is fantastic and beautiful and I just love it so much, I can't even say.
Another thing that I'm unbelievably excited about is the upcoming Les Mis film which comes out on January 11th 2013 in the UK. With stars including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne it looks set to be absolutely amazing! However, the cast member I'm most excited about seeing is Samantha Barks, who first came into the public eye in Andrew Lloyd Webber's TV show I'd Do Anything in which he searched for a new Nancy for the show Oliver!. But that was back in 2008 and since then Barks has been in many West End shows including Oliver! as Nancy (although she only came third she later picked up the role after Jodie Prenger, the winner, moved on) and of course Les Miserables as Eponine, the role she will be reprising in the film and also played in the fantastic 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 arena. The reason I'm mentioning Sam really is because I'm so incensed by the fact that, despite playing one of the main characters in the musical at least, she is being completely overlooked in all the advertising. I know that she's not a big Hollywood name and the whole point of advertising is to get people to come and see the film and without the names it's unlikely that many people would, but still I think it would be nice for her to at least have a poster - she has the song On my Own for goodness sake!!

But anyway, after that little rant, I can go on to say how excited I am for the film! If I'm completely honest I have to admit that, even if I had no previous knowledge of Les Mis I would probably have wanted to go and see it anyway, purely for the shallow reason that Eddie Redmayne is in it and also because of Hugh Jackman's smolder in the above poster. Just. Wow. So, yes, I will definitely be getting back to you on that one in January!
I've definitely been going on for far too long now but one more thing about the movie: the script was also released and then taken down again by Universal about a week ago. However, luckily I managed to find it and it looks absolutely amazing, I can't even begin to explain. It looks as if they are attempting to add even more details from the book and combining this with the stage show to make one that will hopefully match my really quite high expectations. - and the trailers look so promising so fingers crossed. But, yes, watch this space.
As well as that (this is a very Les Mis year!) my school announced before we left for summer that we are going to be doing the schools production of the show in February, cue far too much excitement from me and some friends who share some of my love for it. Unfortunately I had no where near enough nerves to go and audition, that and I just couldn't face getting turned away from Les Mis - it goes against everything the whole story stands for! My inability to sing also scared me too much, but luckily three of my friends can sing and did have the nerves to go and audition and got in (well done to them!) and are currently in the rehearsal stages and filling me in with details of them being whores almost daily. Is it really that bad that I desperately want to be a prostitute too??
I feel I must say before I go, that this post has turned into less of a review and more into my huge excitement for upcoming Les Mis things and why I love it so much so, sorry about that, but I promise my future posts will be actual reviews of things. I hope I have managed to share some of my Les Mis excitement, though, and hopefully encouraged at least someone to give the musical or even the book a try. The story really is life changing and I like to think this book IS my silver candlesticks. I cannot recommend it enough.