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!

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

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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.

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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.