Film Review – Les Miserables, Directed by Tom Hooper

I hadn’t seen the stage version of Les Miserables, but had heard people say how great it was. I thought that a good way to test the waters and see if I would enjoy the stage performance would be to watch the new movie by Director Tom Hooper. I really hope I was wrong to presume it’d be a good comparison. The movie came to cinemas in early January and has brought people flocking since. I’m very surprised that there hasn’t been more outcry.

While there were the occasional strong song (Anne Hathaway’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ cover and Samantha Bark’s ‘on my own’) the movie in general was riddled with errors. Everything from settings, to tone, and even basic film choices were flawed. Beginning with settings: some such as the house at the site of the revolution looked like they were part of a stage setting. I’m unsure if this was intentional, but it’s downright wrong. We had some general establishing shots which were all well and good.  But when zooming out on a particular scene we didn’t always seem to be able to move passed what would be considered the ‘stage’. We watched the action from afar. The director may have been trying to manage the film so that it echoed movements of the stage, but it didn’t fit in. If you’re going to make a movie, make a movie… its already on stage.

Tone errors included the Thenardier and Madame Thenardier. Their song ‘Master of the house’ was fun, but it was a stark contrast to the rest of the film, which meant it got you by surprise. The tone of the rest of the movie was dark and realistic, but when it got to the Thenardier’s song, everything went awry seeing everything from slapstick falls to a promiscuous Santa. Such humour could have been included, but some smoothing over to introduce it might have been nice. By ‘basic filming choices’, I note the one scene where Jean Veljean is talking to Marius in the house and you literally have to tilt your head because the shot is jaunted… and for no particular reason.

Overall, I feel greatly let down with the movie. The director made some bad choices. On a brighter note, however, the songs were brilliantly done – even more so knowing they were recorded by the actors themselves rather than a pre-recording. The actors were also very well chosen. It was sure interesting to see Russell Crowe singing. It was just a shame that his death was more funny than shocking, with the comedic ‘thwack’ that sounded like something out of a cartoon. Theatre wins again, I think!

4/10

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Fiction Review: Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Visitation is a novel by Jenny Erpenbeck, written in the style of a selection of short stories. It follows the people who ‘journey’ through a house in Germany, following several characters over a period of seven decades. The book focuses on the issues of twentieth century Germany: such as the Berlin Wall and Nazi movements. Each character is introduced briefly, meaning we have very little time to get to know them. However, Erpenbeck writes her characters in a way that you can be attached and feel empathy for despite this brief meeting. Dorris is one such character as we follow her final hours at a camp. The use of smells and thoughts really help build the emotion of the scene: ‘for two minutes she inhales the smell of pine trees that she knows so well, but she cannot see the pine trees themselves because of the high fence.’

This book is quite heavy going. The sentence structure is fairly complicated, making for long sentences that take a certain detective quality. The mix-match of characters and the loose swaps between them also make for a tough read. The book gains an essence of looking through a window and not really understanding what you’ve seen until the different images combine. Erpenbeck conceals information from the reader and gently strings them together to reveal the greater picture in this way. This is a good technique, adding mystery and encouraging the reader to want to understand the characters.

Rating: 4/10

Alongside the quick succession of characters, the tone of writing and the style also changes. Styles including perspective bound third person narration in one ‘chapter’ or short story changes to a passage with no character focus that gives a detailed description of a specific detail. For example the second chapter goes into deep detail about women on their wedding days and the traditional things that must happen. This change of focus can sometimes be refreshing, but often simply confusing. The pace of the book is constantly sped up and slowed down due to the swaps. However, this effect does mean the book is very detailed, which adds to its charm.

TV Review: The Only Way is Essex

People like to watch the replication of life on television: hence shows such as Channel 4s Big Brother gained so much popularity back in the 2000s. This want for realism has lead the mass public to ‘The Only Way is Essex’. It seems people believe that they can watch shows like this and see how people should live. It seems right, doesn’t it? You could watch an ‘unscripted’ show about people ‘like you’ to see examples of real life? The show depicts people shopping, sitting around talking, partying, going to bars and every day expressing what they want to do with their lives. But, do the people do these things naturally? No. They’re glammed-up bad actors.  The show has fabricated a world and its watchers seem to believe its actually real. In fact, they’re watching designed behaviour showing what producers know they want to see. This makes ‘entertainment’ while also bringing a negative after-effect that is down-right worrying.

With twitter interaction, viewers are tricked into getting more involved in the ‘characters’ lives. They feel they ‘become part of the show’ without realising that they’re being duped. We’re being told who we should be with a supposed ‘unscripted’ show. However, it’s obvious from watching just five minutes that the show is in no shape of form unscripted. People simply don’t talk like that. These ‘characters’ speak too clearly and they have long pauses between speaking. Even if you consider the possibility of them being slow speakers, there are no overlaps (unless there’s a designed argument) and some lines are cold and unnatural. The settings may be the ‘everyday’, but like any TV show set these too are set-up with extras.

This brings up issues about reactions to the show. Some may just watch to laugh at the type of people they’re imitating. Others may make these people their role models and copy their behaviour. Either way, ‘The Only Way is Essex’ is as awful as the internet warns. It shows fake people living fake lives and encourages their viewers to partake in the lifestyle they see. That lifestyle involves a lack of education (as many of the characters have poor vocabulary and general knowledge) and a focus on sex and pregnancy (in one episode nearly every  scene spoke of a character either having a baby, wanting a baby or having unprotected sex with random people in clubs). We should laugh at these characters, not want to copy them. And that is why ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ is a bad show that needs to be destroyed.

Rating: 2/10