AEOS Review: Begin Again (2014)

Begin Again opens in a dark bar where Gretta (Kiera Knightly) is gently forced by her guitar-playing friend, Steve (James Corden), to get up on stage and sing one of her songs. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is drunk. Before he stumbled into the bar, the music producer was set on convincing his partner that what their studio needed was not another shallow, teeny-bopper, techno hit, but an artist that met his “real” qualifications: honest, genuine, raw, unique. All of this becomes mute when Dan’s crazy debating antics, drunken state, and inability to compromise lose him his job in front of his teenage daughter. To add insult to injury, Dan takes his daughter to a bar, skips out on paying his tab, gets punched by a bartender, and is later humiliated by his estranged wife.

It’s obvious that although Dan is drunk, he’s visibly upset, hurt, even embarrassed. But everything changes when he stumbles into that same bar where Gretta is singing a song. As Gretta sings, Dan imagines a piano softly playing in the background. A cello and violin invisibly pick up their bows and raise the song above its melancholy tune. The drum sticks are picked up in the background and build towards the climax of the song. Dan’s eyes are closed. He’s directing the arrangement, imagining each instrument working together as one to create the hit he’s been searching for.

Rewind. We don’t know it yet, but Gretta was actually part of a writing/singing duo with Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), who was also her live-in boyfriend of five years. We learn that not only does Dave make it big in the industry, assigning Gretta to the support role of fetching everyone coffee and staying silent, but he also has been cheating on Gretta. So Gretta leaves Dave. Later, we see her watching old videos of Dave and her writing and making music together. The relationship ran deep: it was both a work partnership and collaboration as well as a romantic friendship, which heightens the level of pain and betrayal Gretta is dealing with.

Fast forward. We’re back in the bar, and Gretta is singing her song. Dan has claimed her song is a hit, and he begs Gretta to let him sign her. Gretta quickly finds out that Dan can’t sign her: he just lost his job. After a little persuading, Dan gets Gretta on board to convince Dan’s partner to give her song a chance. When they’re denied the opportunity, together Dan and Gretta decide to make an album organically: record outside, in various locations through New York City; find some bored musicians to accompany, and make a demo record to show off to his partner.

All of that happened within the first half hour of the movie. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the movie at that point. I didn’t care for the premise, but like any good screenplay should have, Begin Again did include a beginning with characters that had bad things happen – and gave them a reason to start over. A plot was born. However, it took a long time to get to that point. I had a lot of unanswered questions. I didn’t understand his relationship with his estranged wife (or his wife, for that matter). I didn’t like Dan at all – he was a drunk mess, had a bad attitude, and appeared to be a terrible father. I also didn’t understand why Gretta would take a chance on Dan; my only guess is that getting cheated on, betrayed, and thrown out made her desperate enough to give Dan a chance.

The movie really picks up when the newfound group is recording songs. We get scenes of different musicians joining the group and recording songs together. I thought Kiera Knightly was easily the star of the film, much like the lead singer in the group. It was great to see her stretch her acting muscles and again play a character that wasn’t in a period-type role. I remember being really surprised to see her acting against Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the WorldIt was another modern-day movie, and she seemed to have a lot of fun. In Begin Again, Knightly holds her own against Ruffalo, another actor who is a bit older than she is.

Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, played a character that was erratic and all over the place. Normally, I’m a pretty big fan of Ruffalo, but this was not his greatest role. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to start liking Dan after we learn the story behind his estranged wife. I couldn’t tell if the character was selfish just in the beginning. I felt like his character wasn’t written very consistently throughout the film. To me, it seemed like Carney might have had a better understanding of Gretta than Dan when writing. Or perhaps he was trying to prove the point that like Dan, the music business – and many who work in that business – are unstable and volatile, but at the end of the day, either stay alive by knowing what sells, changing with the business, or are left behind for staying true to one’s roots.

Adam Levine was an interesting choice to play David Kohl. When Levine’s character was in the recording studio, on stage, performing, it was obvious Levine was most comfortable. When there were scenes of dialogue or straight acting, he felt a little awkward, and very much the person many know from The Voice. Although Levine didn’t do a bad job, it’s difficult to separate the person from the actor when he’s a real-life singer who is supposed to act as a singer and not get compared to his real-life self. I would be interested in seeing Levine play a role that wasn’t a musician or performer.

Begin Again is heavily compared to Once with its similar premise and themes and shared writer/director John Carney. I haven’t seen Once, although I have heard a lot about it. There were a couple movies that Begin Again reminded me of, but the one I couldn’t stop thinking about was Music and Lyrics. Hugh Grant plays a similar character to both Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine: he’s down on his luck, with things not going well for him like Mark Ruffalo’s character. But he’s also the singing star that Adam Levine plays. Kiera Knightly’s character is similar to Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics in that she’s the writing force behind the duo. She’s also dealing with a jerk who broke her heart. Knightly and Ruffalo working together reminded me a lot of Grant and Barrymore working together to write a song. Albeit, the plot is much more involved in Begin Again, I did enjoy comparing and contrasting the two films. And I did enjoy Begin Again considerably more than Music and Lyrics.

I definitely got lost in the music of Begin Again in the best way possible.The music was very catchy, and there are some great scenes that make the movie very enjoyable to watch. I’m decidedly purchasing the soundtrack for the film. In case you haven’t seen the end, I’ll leave that part a secret. I was happy that the movie stayed true to itself.

Here’s Kiera Knightly singing “Lost Stars” from the soundtrack. I like both hers’ and Adam Levine’s versions:

I give Begin Again THREE out of FOUR open eyes.

Eye Art1Eye Art1Eye Art1Eye Art2

 

 

What are your thoughts on Begin Again? Please share them below.

Advertisements

AEOS Double Review: Prometheus and Rock of Ages

I suppose I couldn’t pick two more different movies to be reviewing together, but having seen both this past weekend and having each fresh in my mind, I decided to double up on this review.

Prometheus

Well, I think I’ll always be catching up on movies. I have never seen any of the Alien films until last Friday, when my best friend sat me down and said, “You have to at least see the first Alien before seeing Prometheus.” So we did just that — and I was amazed at how cool a sci-fi film could be made, even in the late 1970s. Sigourney Weaver was the sole survivor and hero of the film. I was a big fan.

So going into Prometheus, I felt slightly more prepared and that much more excited to be able to make comparisons or relate similar ideas and characters if need be. For one, let me just say that I was a big fan of the cast of Prometheus. Both Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace have been making names for themselves in the U.S., especially within the past couple years. Charlize Theron is still a pro at playing a cold character, and the others worked out their roles as any other nonessential supporting characters would.

Ridley Scott also brought us stunning visuals, which comes as no surprise to anyone who even caught a preview of the film. It really was a dazzling film to view on the big screen, especially the scenes within the caves.

There’s been a lot of hubbub and analyzing over all the open-endedness of the film. My personal take is that the questions were intentionally left open in order for audiences to discuss, arrive at their own conclusions, or just appreciate the complex beauty of the film and take it for what it is–pure science fiction at its core. Many have made comparisons to that of Tree of Life, or people give their own take from an atheistic or Christian perspective.

Yes, I’m a Christian, but I view the film from a fictional perspective. Perhaps if I had seen the other Alien films and revisit Prometheus a time or two, and read various articles on the film, I would give my own deeper explanation for my own lack of explanation and analyzation of the film. Sorry for anyone I might disappoint. The biggest movie comparison for me was Inception. Do I have your attention now? 🙂

The only comparison I make of the two films is that Inception also closes with an ending that is a question: did the top fall over, did it not? Was Cobb still dreaming?

In Prometheus, I’m thinking, did Shaw find her answers? I suppose she still chooses to believe in God when she puts the cross necklace back on, but she’s still searching. Will she find the answers she’s looking for? Will she survive long enough to find the answers? Are there even answers for her to find, given her limits as a human being?

The answer to all those questions is I don’t know. A gloriously blissful ignorant I DON’T KNOW. And I enjoy not knowing, because I think that’s the point of the open-ended questions that close the films. It’s an intentional choice on the end of the writers/directors to let the audience decide and arrive at their own conclusions.

Rock of Ages

On the complete other end of the movie genre spectrum is a little musical called the Rock of Ages. From many of the reviews I’ve read (and agree with), Rock of Ages can be summed up as a string of awesome ’80s music videos featuring some crazy big stars, from Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones to Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand and newcomer Diego Boneta.

It was an average film at best. My biggest complaint is that I think Julianne Hough, who nailed her role, should stick to dancing instead of singing. This will sound petty to people who are less OCD than I am, but when you make a musical and the main role is sung by someone who’s voice is not only recognizable as highly edited throughout the film, but who clearly doesn’t possess the vocal range necessary to sing, and oftentimes, lead many of the huge vocal numbers, it’s frustrating as a viewer.

That being said, newbie Diego Boneta rocked the music and the role, and Tom Cruise was easily the most entertaining and best part of Rock of Ages. Some scenes with him are beyond funny, and make the film worth rental price just to watch him act like a rock star. I almost wish Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand would have had larger roles, because they were hilarious and enjoyable to watch interacting as well.

The problem with Adam Shankman’s latest musical wasn’t the casting or the acting, and certainly not the music selection, but the terrible screenplay. No doubt the story works better on stage than onscreen. I recently saw Jersey Boys at Broadway in Chicago, and I loved it. But I couldn’t imagine seeing a screen version of it turn out well. I assume it’s the same concept for stories like Rock of Ages.

What did you think of Prometheus? I’m open for discussion, so throw yourself out there if you have an opinion. Did you see Rock of Ages? Did you did the film, or were underwhelmed like me? Share your thoughts below!

If My Life Were a Movie

What if your life were a . . .  movie?

OK, I agree . . . that’s a highly implausible possibility, but who says we can’t be dreamers? I’m not one for self-indulgence, but every now and then, it’s fun to imagine what my life would be like if it were a movie . . .

Cast List

Female Lead (playing me)

  • First choice: Emma Stone
  • Second choice: Anna Kendrick
Reason for choices: No actress who is my age has handled dorkiness (House Bunny), drama (The Help), or comedy (Superbad) better than Emma Stone. She’s miles prettier than I am, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else able to play me. My second choice is Anna Kendrick because she’s great at playing awkward. And well, sometimes, I am just awkward.

Male Lead (playing opposite me)

  • First choice: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Second choice: John Krasinski
Reason for choices: Who else but Joseph Gordon-Levitt? I love him in every film he’s in. I think he brings something new and fresh to the table in all of his roles. That, and he’s hot. John Krasinski looks like the everyday guy that almost any girl wouldn’t mind falling in love with. I know I wouldn’t mind.

Dear ‘Ol Dad

  • First choice: Colin Firth
  • Second choice: Steve Carell
Reason for choices:  After seeing Colin Firth in What a Girl Wants, I knew I would be perfectly fine if he were my dad. On the other hand, Steve Carell is an entirely different choice. He can make the littlest things entertaining, yet he still has an endearing side to him that would make him an excellent father figure.

Mother Dearest

  • First choice: Susan Sarandon
  • Second choice: Meryl Streep
Reason for choices: It’s hard to describe what it is about Susan Sarandon that assures me she would make the perfect mom. She just seems like she’d be an awesome, fun mom. Meryl Streep is my second choice–I think I’d like her just for all her cooking in Julie & Julia, even though Julia’s a character. She seems like someone who’d have a lot of wisdom to offer.

Really Strange, But Awesome Sibling

  • First choice: Andy Samberg
  • Second choice: Adam Scott
Reason for choices: Andy Samberg embodies “strange, but awesome,” in my opinion. He has a bit of a douchey side to him in most movies he’s been in, yet he’s hilarious as heck on Saturday Night Live. Between Parks and Rec and Friends with Kids, I could only imagine Adam Scott as the perfect second choice to play a funny, but awesome older brother character.  

Crazy Uncle

  • First choice: Jim Carrey
  • Second choice: Jack Black
Reason for choices: Jim Carrey is known to be one crazy, hilarious dude, although I think he has a great handle on dramas too. He’s great at playing a variety of characters. Is it really necessary for me to explain either of my choices in this category? You tell me!

Villain of the Story

  • First choice: Ryan Seacrest
  • Second choice: Kristen Stewart
Reason for choices: Ryan Seacrest may sound like a nutty first choice for the villain, but one has to imagine he has to have some anger and frustration from hosting American Idol. Plus, I’d love to see the guy let loose and go crazy. Kristen Stewart . . . she already has the face down. She looks angry at the world.

Comic Relief

  • First choice: Aziz Ansari
  • Second choice: Neil Patrick Harris
Reason for choices: Aziz Ansari is hilarious. Few will ever deny this. Although I had a rather late introduction to him (30 Minutes or Less), he is comedy gold. From being an avid fan of How I Met Your Mother, I’ve learned that Neil Patrick Harris is one of the funniest dudes out there. Either making cameos or playing some small role as comic relief would be awesome.

Director

  • First choice: Marc Webb
  • Second choice: Nancy Meyers
  • Third choice: Cameron Crowe
Reason for choices: I’m still really all over the place with who I would choose as director. Hence, why I chose three different people. Marc Webb is responsible for directing one of my favorite movies of all time, and many of you already know what that is–(500) Days of Summer. For someone to incorporate that much reality into a film, with well-developed characters, yet somehow still include a musical dance number and make a film as endearing as it is? I can’t imagine a better director. Nancy Meyers is another fun choice because I’ve very much enjoyed several of her films, especially The Holiday and It’s Complicated. I think she really knows how to make a full, in-depth film with a female protagonist without making it feel too chick-flicky or overly romantic. She seems to be one of the few female directors out there who really has a specific vision, and when you see the film, you know that it’s a Nancy Meyers film. My final choice is Cameron Crowe. He would have been my first choice if I thought he could incorporate more comedy, but I see Crowe as a director who has a lot of heart and definitely some drama. And that’s what I love about him.

Film Composer

  • First choice: Hans Zimmer
  • Second choice: Nancy Wilson
  • Third choice: Henry Jackman
Reason for choices: Hans Zimmer is a master. He’s brilliant at developing new, ear-catching themes that outlast even some of the films he has scored for. Ultimately, Zimmer is my first choice to score a film. Nancy Wilson, although more of a rocker with far less experience, is still a talented musician with the ability to create a beautiful score, such as her work for Elizabethtown. Henry Jackman may sound like a strange third choice–I mean, why shouldn’t I choose someone far more experienced, like James Newton Howard or Alan Silvestri or Danny Elfman, all of whom I love? Jackman may has less experience, but he’s great at what he does. And he’s newer to the film score drawing board, similarly matching myself in that I’m still young. After falling in love with his work on X-Men: First Class score, I decided he would be a great back-up plan.

Theme Song

  • First choice: “Uncharted,” by Sara Bareilles
  • Second choice: “Ironic,” by Alanis Morisette
Reason for choices: I’m not as great as coming up with a good theme song. Instead of thinking long and hard about it, I just picked a couple songs in my library that I like a lot. I think both songs describe a lot of my own feelings about my life, so that’s helpful. I guess I could have chosen “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness. Wahaha.

Genre

  • Primary genre: Comedy
  • Secondary genre: Drama
  • Optional addition: Musical number
Reason for choices: No matter how I look at my life, through the big highs and lows, there always seems to be someone who finds things about me hilarious. I’ve always been attracted to people with a good sense of humor, comedy TV shows and movies, and I’ve even attended a small share of stand-up comedy.

What can I say? Sometimes I think the greatest escape to reality is surrounding yourself with people and media that can make you laugh. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve also had my share of drama. And I mean, honestly, whose life doesn’t at least have a little unwanted drama in it? And just because I love musicals so much, I think there just has to be musical number thrown in, just for good measure.

I tried to think of some nifty titles, but nothing came to mind. So I guess all of THAT will just have to do. I must admit, I had a tons of fun putting this together. So now, it’s YOUR turn, people!

If your life were a movie, who would you cast as yourself? and opposite you? Any specific director or cinematographer or costume designer you’d demand? What kind of genre would it be? Share it, or copy and paste mine and fill it in with your own choices! Add and take away what people you would include. What do you think of my choices? 

Love Week: Singing Bits I Love in Film

With only a few hours left in the day, I’m struggling to get a second post out during my “Love Week” here at All Eyes on Screen. Multiple things have kept me MIA from AEOS lately, so I’m going with the thought, better late than never, right?

So yesterday, I posted about my 10 favorite romantic movies. Tonight I’ll be including a few singing bits I love in various films, which happen to be all over the place. The list isn’t conclusive, but a few favorites I really enjoy.

“Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future (1985), sung by Michael J. Fox

When I was thinking about writing this post, Fox’s performance of “Johnny B. Goode” was the first one to pop in my head. Back to the Future is one of my favorite movie trilogies, and this is one of the most memorable scenes. He starts off by announcing that “this song is an oldie . . . um, from where I come from,” suddenly realizing that it’s not considered old in 1955. He kills it on the guitar, and it’s completely entertaining in both the first film and when it’s revisited in the second film.

“I Put a Spell on You” in Hocus Pocus (1993), sung by Bette Midler

Every year around Halloween, I make it a priority to get a viewing of Hocus Pocus in, because it’s a holiday classic. It might be the only film I can handle Sarah Jessica Parker in too (exception: Sex in the City [only the first one!]). This part is exceptionally hilarious, because while the kids are trying to convince their parents that these three witches are, in fact, real witches, Bette Midler decides to work with the line “Put a spell on you,” and turns it into a performance at a Halloween party.

“Grow Old with You” in The Wedding Singer (1998), sung by Adam Sandler

I did include this scene in my last post. However, I had the most difficult time selecting a song I love most from The Wedding Singer. Adam Sandler sings several times throughout the film, but I think “Grow Old with You” is his most heartfelt performance. Other hilarious songs include his rendition of “Love Stinks” after he’s been left at the altar, and “You Spin Me Round” at the opening credits of the film. The ’80s Adam Sandler knows how to sing, and what better way to woo a girl than to start singing to her.

“Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” in 10 Things I Hate about You (1999), sung by Heath Ledger

Speaking of singing for women’s affections, Heath Ledger is fantastic in the little stunt he pulls to win back Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate about You. He pays off the marching band to accompany him while he half dances, half runs away from the cops trying to hustle him down. This is a favorite of my favorite singing bits in a movie, partly because Ledger is so charming singing “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.”

“Only Hope” in A Walk to Remember (2002), sung by Mandy Moore

I used to wonder if Mandy Moore was recruited for A Walk to Remember just to deliver her song “Only Hope” in the film. This is her shining moment in the film, when she surprises everyone, especially Shane West, by stepping out and singing beautifully. She lends her voice to the film’s soundtrack as well.

“The Edge of Night” in The Return of the King (2003), sung by Billy Boyd

I’ve been reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and I noticed something familiar as I was reading a poem in the third chapter titled “A Walking Song”–the lyrics from the song “The Edge of Night” that Billy Boyd sings in The Return of the King matched parts of the last stanza in the poem. Another cool thing I learned from reading about it on its Wikipedia page is that Billy Boyd actually composed the beautiful melody for the song.

“Teacher’s Pet” in School of Rock (2003), sung by Jack Black

After reading this post, I learned that my film friend, Castor of Anomalous Material highly dislikes Jack Black, even in School of Rock. I, however, can’t get enough of Mr. Black, especially in School of Rock. It’s one of my favorite comedies, and I love this end scene where the students rally with Jack Black and perform “Teacher’s Pet” at the Battle of the Bands. The lyrics are well-written and pretty funny, and who better to lead a band of elementary school kids than Jack Black?

“Run and Tell That” in Hairspray (2007), sung by Elijah Kelley

There are multiple songs I would pull from this remake of Hairspray to claim as favorites, but I decided to go with “Run and Tell That” because the choreography is great and the lead singer, Elijah Kelley, is relatively unknown, especially in a film that included so many big names. Kelley’s voice is exposed multiple times on the soundtrack and throughout the film, but his solo “Run and Tell That” really reveals what an incredible voice the singer-actor has. I much prefer to listen to Kelley over Michelle Pfeiffer or Christopher Walken.

“Pop Goes My Heart” in Music and Lyrics (2007), sung by Hugh Grant

Although Music and Lyrics was certainly no hit, it did include some entertaining songs from a fictional 80s band with lead vocalist Hugh Grant. Although Grant certainly doesn’t possess booming pipes, he really pulls off the facade and sound of an 80s leading man fairly well. I had to include “Pop Goes My Heart” over “Way Back into Love” because the music video is hysterical, but well-made.

“Stu’s Song” in The Hangover (2009), sung by Ed Helms

And of course, I couldn’t forget “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover. The great part about the song is that it fit in so well with the rest of the film. The random uncertainty and spontaneity of the movie was its ticket to success, and Ed Helms delivers on all funny levels necessary, especially for a light break from the “drama” of the movie. The neat thing about this song is that the musically-talented actor actually just sat down and starting singing and playing the song, coming up with it on the spur of the moment. The director liked it so much that he put it into the movie.

What songs do you guys love in movies? Do you like any of the same as me? 

Guest Post – Will Tom Hooper Be Able to Tackle Les Miserables?

Hey all! I’ve been in need of a serious break from blogging, so today, my sister, Jennifer, will be guest posting on the Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Miserables. The first half of the post is more introductory on the story of Les Mis, and the second half is a “Recast Edition,” a fun type of post where the author will recast a film if he or she thinks there is a cast who can better fill the roles. Feel free to chime in and share your opinions below. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out more about Jennifer!

–Kristin

******************************************************************************************************************

By Jennifer Griffin

A Little Introduction to Les Miserables

There’s been a great deal of hype regarding the upcoming film adaptation of the novel (Victor Hugo) turned musical Les Miserables (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg). According to director Tom Hooper and cast member Hugh Jackman, the casting is still being finalized, and the actors are just being to learn the music this month.

Les Miserables has been credited as the most successful musical ever written. A little over three decades ago, Boublil and Schönberg finished adapting the novel to musical format and premiered the musical in Paris. Five years following the premiere, the musical opened in London as a 3-month touring group engagement. The show sold out within the first week, and the box office received several record orders. Two years later it hit Broadway and did not close until after 6,680 performances. Les Mis is the third longest running Broadway show today and has been since revived on Broadway as one of its most successful shows. Altogether, the musical has been produced in 38 countries and translated into 21 languages, with over 70 different official recordings.

All of that to say . . .

Hooper obviously has a huge legacy to live up to in his bold decision to make this musical a successful film. Despite already having 6 film adaptations, Hooper’s version will be the first to actually have the musical–not just the book (or dialogue only)–adapted for film. Converting Les Mis to a musical film production will be an incredible task for Hooper to take on for several reasons:

  1. The music is extremely hard for actors who are not trained singers to perform.
  2. The novel is one of the most well-known pieces of historical fiction, and like adapting any novel to the film format, doing it justice is not easy—(it was debated that writing a musical based on the novel would be “sacrilegious”—there are many negative reviews in England and France if you look at articles from the 1980s!)
  3. The musical itself is extremely beloved, so living up to it in film with singers who can equally sing/act the roles is a challenge.
  4. Finding a cast that have ample acting experience both on stage and screen is normally necessary when making this sort of film—actors like this are not as common as they used to be.
  5. A great nonmusical film adaptation of the book with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush came out in 1998 and was very successful, possibly making this film version look unnecessary until more time had passed.
  6. The resources—the elaborate prison, battle, and abbey sets, the rights to the music, the large stage and off-stage chorus needed, the orchestra, etc.—are very expensive.

While I look forward to seeing Hooper’s take on Les Mis, I have two major reservations:

  • the cast
  • the way Hooper has decided to film/record the singing

Recast Edition: Tom Hooper’s upcoming Les Miserables

Below is Hooper’s main cast, and who I would cast in place of them:

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman

Character Description: Dramatic tenor—very, very high voice in this musical—burly French peasant imprisoned for 19 years who vows to turn his life around after he escapes prison and in so doing helps Fantine and later adopts her daughter, Cosette.

Hugh Jackman actually does have screen and stage experience as well as singing experience, but Jean Valjean is probably one of the top 2 hardest tenor roles in all of musical theatre (the other one being the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera). Perhaps Hooper feels like he needs an actor with a big name in the title role in order to successfully market this movie, but in the case of casting this particular character, he would actually do well to err on the side of screen experience because of the difficulty level of musicality as well as vocal range and ability the role demands.

My first choice for casting Jean Valjean would be Alfie Boe because he has a great deal of screen and stage acting experience, and he played Valjean in the London 25th Anniversary version of Les Mis (check out the video here). Other singer-actors I would choose include Matthew Morrison (Glee) and James Marsden (EnchantedHairspray), although both would have to buff up.

Inspector Javert: Russell Crowe

Character Description: Baritone—high officer of the law, sets out to bring Valjean to justice.

I believe Crowe is miscast altogether. The police inspector is a commanding force in the novel and the musical, but not physically. He is commanding because of his reputation as a successful inspector, his reputation of dedication to the law, and the nobility as well as the rest of the police force supporting him. Javert needs to be smaller than Valjean, not bigger; plus, Javert is a vocally-demanding role. I have never heard Crowe sing, and I fear that this will remind us all of the “lovely” singing of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (2008).

Norm Lewis (25th Anniversary edition as Javert) or Michael Ball (the original London cast of Les Mis as Marius) tie for my first spot in casting Javert, because both have a great deal of screen acting experience. Philip Quast would also be an interesting choice, despite his older age.

Fantine: Anne Hathaway

Character Description: Mezzo-soprano or alto—sickly woman that sells everything, including her body, to support her daughter Cosette after Cosette’s father leaves her.

Based on a couple of instances on SNL, the Oscars, and Princess Diaries, I think Anne Hathaway sings decently. The role of Fantine, however, is known as one of the toughest belter roles in all of musical theatre, including the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” song. I wish Hooper would have picked someone with more singing experience. The only trait about Hathaway that matches Fantine’s description is the that the character looks like she is dying of consumption or suffering from anorexia.

My first choice for Fantine is Kerry Ellis. She was in one of the original casts of Wicked as Elphaba and in the televised version of Chess in London a few years ago. Depending on the age of the Valjean casted, other options I would consider include Lea Salonga, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Idina Menzel.

Eponine: Taylor Swift Samantha Barks

Character Description: Belter or low alto—daughter of the Thénardiers, peasant, tom-boy in love with Marius.
As of January 31, Taylor Swift is no longer in the works to play this role. In her place, Hooper has chosen Samantha Barks to fill the role of Eponine. Barks’s experience includes screen acting on BBC television as well as playing Eponine in the 25th Anniversary edition performance of Les Mis.

Despite Swift no longer filling the role, I did want to give my opinion on the casting: most well-trained singers and musicians do not like Swift for the sheer fact that she is rarely on pitch when she sings live, her voice is weak, and she tends to whine. I won’t say any more as to not offend anyone who is a Taylor Swift fan, but nevertheless, it was a 100% miscast if nothing else.

Aside from Barks, my next choice for Eponine would be Lea Michele (Glee, Les Miserables).  Other options I would consider include Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible). I’m sure there are many others that would be better for the role than Swift, but these are the first ones that come to my mind.

Cosette: Amanda Seyfried

Character Description: Soprano—innocent, beautiful, cultured daughter of Fantine, adopted by Valjean, in love with Marius.

I am extremely excited about this casting; Seyfried is typecast and sings very well.

If Seyfried couldn’t play Cosette, other people I would consider include Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera, film version), Hilary Duff (Raise Your Voice), and Katie Hall (25th Anniversary edition).

Marius: Eddie Redmayne

Character Description: Baritenor—student revolutionary, friends with Eponine, in love with Cosette.

I have never actually heard Redmayne sing, but he has both a big screen acting and musical theater background, so I will be eager to see what he brings to this role.

My first choice in casting Marius would be Josh Groban, because he is absolutely typecast in looks and voice. Darren Criss (Glee, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) would be my runner-up, and other considerations include Zac Efron (Hairspray), Ben Feldman (Drop Dead Diva) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd).

Enjolras: Aaron Tveit

Character Description: Baritenor—leader of the student revolutionaries, good friend of Marius.

Tveit is the other cast member I have yet to hear sing, but he has a nice resume as well including both screen acting and musical theater.

Ramin Karimloo (25th Anniversary edition) is the first person I would cast as Enjolras. Other people to consider include Adam Pascal (RentChess), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, original cast), and Neil Patrick Harris (Rent, Dr. Horrible).

Madame Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter

Character Description: Alto—married to Monsieur Thénardier, Eponine’s mother, Cosette’s aunt, despicable pickpocket and thief who manages the inn with her husband.

I am also excited about Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Madame Thénardier. She’s also typecast and sings well (Sweeney Todd).

After Bonham Carter, other options to consider for the role include Bernadette Peters (Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Elliott (Wicked touring cast, Drop Dead Diva), or Dot-Marie Jones (Glee).

Monsieur Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen

Character Description: Baritone or tenor—married to Madame Thénardier, Eponine’s father, Cosette’s uncle, despicable pickpocket and thief who owns the main inn in town.

Sacha Baron Cohen fits the role characteristically and physically; however, has anyone even heard him sing? I just don’t know about this one.

Jason Alexander (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, The Producers) has an incredible singing voice, so he would be my first choice to play Monsieur Thenardier. The only other option that came to mind was Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).

The second issue is due to the way Hooper has decided to record the singing. Hooper plans to record the scenes with singing live as opposed to pre-recording with lip-synching in the actual scenes like most musicals are filmed. Normally, as a singer myself, I would be all for this; however, when you have a cast in which most are mediocre singers and fairly inexperienced musicians, I don’t think it is such a good idea. Those who are Broadway vets are obviously used to having to sing, dance, act, and do crazy staging all at the same time. Those that are not used to all of these aspects will struggle though, and it will come out in the recording process.

Again, I am very excited that they finally are making a film version of this awesome musical, but unfortunately I do not have the highest hopes of it coming close to measuring up to actually seeing it in a theater live with well-experienced singer/actors. I hope Hooper and the rest of the cast prove me wrong.

The seventh film adaptation of Les Mis will hit theaters December 7.

******************************************************************************************************************

Jennifer Griffin is an Adjunct Music Professor at Northern Illinois University. With two Masters degrees in Vocal Performance and Musicology at the ripe age of 25, she makes music a priority in her life. In her free time, Jennifer teaches voice and piano at private studios, accompanies singers and instrumentalists, and daydreams about making it big someday at the Lyric Opera. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jgprimadonna

Trailer Friday – Rock of Ages

For those of you who saw Game of Shadows in theaters last month, probably caught this first Rock of Ages trailer released. Due to open early this summer, Rock of Ages features an A-list cast from Footloose survivor Julianne Hough, to Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Chicago‘s Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, and . . . Tom Cruise?

Musically-inclined director Adam Shankman, brushing up after his successful remake (2007) of Broadway musical Hairspray (2002), which was actually based off the 1988 film, will be producing and directing this musically-based film set in the 1980s rock ‘n roll era.

Up and newcomer Diego Boneta will be starring in the film next to Hough. Born in Mexico City, twenty-one-year old Boneta’s list of credits starts at Mexican soap opera Rebelde and carries through a recurring role on the ABC family teen drama, Pretty Little Liars and a guest role on 90210. Rock of Ages will bring his face and name into the Hollywood spotlight for the first time. Shankman even compared the young singer to Zac Efron in Hairspray and Channing Tatum in the first Step Up (2006).

The music alone is reason to go see this film, with it featuring Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, and Twisted Sister. The trailer offers just a taste of it with what appears to be a singing battle of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” serving as trailer music, with Zeta-Jones on one side and Brand on the other.

Although I haven’t seen the original Rock of Ages anywhere, I did learn that Zeta-Jones’s role was originally made for Shankman’s movie version. As for Cruise, well, with him plugging in “5 hour practice sessions” and his voice being Shankman-deemed “fantastic,” I hope we’ll all be in for a treat come June this year. Even if you don’t like musicals, I’d recommend going just to see Cruise play Stacee Jaxx. He looks hysterical.