I'm reading the a "Short History of Everything"- style book on World War II called "The Second World War," by Anthony Beavor. It's not a perfect book, but for someone that hasn't made a practice of studying the history of this time (mainly the Cold War and times more recent), it's a fascinating read.

It's also morbidly effective at conveying the horrors of war. Like many Americans, I saw "Saving Private Ryan," but the horror of that beachfront scene cannot convey the deliberate starvation of civilians, the accidental bombing of cities, the human rights violations/mass rapes, the frozen bodies that lost the struggle against waist-high snow, and the horrors of disease or dismemberment that visited the war. The striking thing is that these horrors were everywhere. We know about Stalingrad's famine, and the abuse of the "comfort women," and that disease is horrible - but these atrocities were happening across four continents. The scale of suffering is breath-taking, and while the material (chopped off hands bring thrown in stacks in the snow) isn't the typical stuff of a history class, I can't help but feel I missed something  in reading about the movements of troops.

I am very lucky to live in this age, which, despite its wars, has been the most peaceful the world has ever known. May this statement continue to be truer and truer.

Les Miserables - In which my musical nerditude is revealed.

SPOILERS BELOW on MOVIE MAKING CHOICES; you might want to read after watching.

I have mixed feelings about this film. I'm not sure that they are entirely justified since Hooper & Co. did so many things right, but it's the sort of feeling that comes from watching something that could have been perfect, making the imperfections stand out all the more.*

First, the shoutouts:
  1. "I Dreamed a Dream" and the Finale were acted, filmed, orchestrated, and edited with great emotional impact. I really liked the giant barricade of Heaven; it was a great way to end the show. 
  2. Anne Hathaway, take a well deserved bow, and probably an Oscar. Sam Barks (wearing a truly wtf corset) also did awesome, but I was expecting that. Hathaway was a surprise.
  3.  A commitment to the essence of the musical and generally the book - they stayed true to the source material that hasn't been the case in other circumstances. Cameron MacKintosh held his ground.
They also kept all of the songs - all of them - and here's where I get a little conflicted. This film was really ambitious because it tried to port everything across from the stage to the screen, with a lot of success in many areas, like the live recording of music. It's a groundbreaker and as such only the first (hopefully) of other movies that can take on and improve this format. So in that spirit....

Context: I'm just not sure that taking every song and sung dialogue made it into a better movie - just a more faithful musical (except why no Eponine + Fantine in the last scene - that harmony is SO GOOD). Removing a few of the songs out and adding some expository dialogue could have immersed us a little more in the screenplay in partnership with the scenes and staging; as it was I felt rushed from song to song to song for the entire movie. We need a director's cut that gives us more time to breathe. Then again, there have been many Les Mis movies already without singing, so that territory had already been explored. Eh.(update: here's some background info on those choices from the screenwriter)

Closeups: Also, running from close-up-shot song to close-up-shot song left no room for the epic context that we glimpsed in the zoom-out "scene change" moments. It was especially biting in pieces that were written for more than one person to sing together, like "A Heart Full of Love." The movie makes the factual situation clear, but the resonance of the scene isn't in the fact that Eponine is watching these two - it's in watching them AND watching her watching them juxtaposed, which was something the movie audience had to imagine instead of seeing directly. Showing us the zoomed-in emotions of each individual became a every-song-trope, lessening the effectiveness of later ballads like "On My Own" and "Empty Chairs," which as individual songs are actually all about the single characters. Hooper defends himself here, saying he cut the film this way since the close-ups had more emotional power, but it's a tragedy of the commons scenario. Each time this route is taken it lessens the effect later on.

Casting: My greatest gripe.. I get the appeal of big names, and it really worked with Hathaway, but Jackman, Sigfried, and Crowe grated on me a little. My Jackman gripes are about style, which is forgivable, and Sigfried's part didn't demand super power, but Crowe was outmatched by his part. I liked everything surrounding his character - the actions, the context of walking high, etc - but Crowe just doesn't have the full vocal muscle that many of these people have, and it showed. Vibrato only works when deployed correctly, and it wasn't often here.

Still an awesome movie, still probably a DVD I'll be buying, but it could have been better. Alas.

*As a fellow content creator I know that this is patently unfair, since there were so many countless things done right, with great effort, that no one noticed because they were done right. Derp.