Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Miserable Ones

Tonight was perhaps the most captivating night at the cinema of my life. Our daughter Brannon treated us to Lex Miserables, the musical movie, at Ziegfield Cinema near Times Square in New York City. The theater was sold out so we were glad to find seats down close slightly to the right. I had the aisle, giving my aching legs stretching room, and my eyes a full view, sometimes of individual sweating pores and tears building to a drop.

I have a bone or two to pick, but let me begin by saying that it is a magnificent piece of film, creatively imagined, expertly cast, gorgeously photographed, dramatically lighted, really acted, beautifully sung.

Hugh Jackman will give Daniel Day Lewis a run for the Oscar for best actor. One of the beauties of this story, the musical, and now the movie is its reminder to those of us who live in comfort and plenty that poor, dirty, despairing folk are folk. Behind the grime, the pretense, the toothless grins, the overdone make-up, the ragged clothes, the unkempt hair, the poor English... are flesh and blood humans with the same wants and needs, hurts and hearts of all men. Jackman as Valjean is unrecognizable and totally believable in the opening scenes as the depraved, dehumanized convict.

And he becomes one of the beloved characters of all literature.
I thought Jackman's singing was sometimes a little nasal. Where Colm Wilkinson, very effectively and purposefully, used falsetto, Jackman used a full, though somewhat strained voice.

Fantine (Anne Hathaway),

not of her own volition, takes the opposite path, falling from virtuous and beautiful to compromised and pitiful. Both are outstanding.

My favorite character and the strongest acting and singing was that of Eddie Redmayne.

His portrayal of the distraught Marius singing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was heart-rendingly perfect. Redmayne deserves a supporting actor Oscar, in my humble and correct opinion.

Siblings Eponine (Samantha Barks) and  Gavroche (Danial Huttlestone) were captivating.

The Thernardiers were well cast, though I thought (my kids disagree) that they were overdone. The disgusting food scene was more graphic than necessary and not believable to me. Like Sheila, I was glad they were made more disgusting than comic though.

Russell Crowe as Javert has received the most criticism of any actor in the film, I suspect. I actually liked his acting. His singing was a little weak, though I like its understated manner except for the suicide when I wanted him to give me more overt pain and... volume.

The 1200 sold-out seats at the Zeigfield were filled with Les Mis enthusiasts, like the Shaws, who applauded for the announcement, after interminable previews, of the main attraction. They also applauded individual songs again and again, especially I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and nearly brought the house down for One Day More and the Finale.

Drat it! One of my dreams is to sing the Valjean part someday in a local production or concert version. Folks will now picture Jackman (20 years my junior) in the role rather than an older Colm Wilkinson type. I'm already pushing the upper limit even with the Wilkinson image of ol' Jean.

Get your tickets. You don't want to miss this on the big screen, at least once. I'll see it again soon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in Gotham, 2012

Here we are in Gotham for Christmas again. We did this in 2004, again in 2008, and now in 2012. I don't know if it's associated with elections or leap years, or what. But it's a great place to celebrate Christmas.

We have tried recently to de-emphasize the commercial aspects of Christmas and make it meaningful in a deeper sense. Our tradition of attending the Christmas Eve service then standing in the Trinity Methodist Nativity has been precious to me and broken only by these trips to NYC. On both earlier trips we have spent Christmas Eve at church (2004 at Marble Collegiate Church and 2008 at the Catholic Church of Saint Paul the Apostle near Central Park).  We were just too tired to go out to a Christmas Eve service last night. We'll see Les Miserables, the movie, today. To me that is a religious experience. We might make a Christmas Day service somewhere this morning, but I'm the only early riser in my family (Can you hear the snores?), so that's doubtful. I s'pose I could get out myself to one of the Greek Orthodox churches in this neighborhood. That would be a new experience for me.

I am thankful to be able to spend Christmas 2012 with my much-loved daughters and their mother whom I adore. I could never adequately explain my feelings for them but here is a little effort at that I wrote for them one Christmas when the girls were very small:

Exchanging Gifts 
What gifts will you bring your Papa?
Pure  gold, however they’re made—
Wrapped in sunshine of smiles;
Tied up with love that won’t fade.
What gift will you bring your Lover?
Its rich, whatever you’ve spent,
You’ve  paid thrice in sweat and tears
and my promises, broken or bent.
What gifts can I bring my daughters?
What present is worthy my wife?
Tawdry trinkets diamonds would seem
On these precious true-treasures of life.

-Terrell Shaw

Happy Christmas to all my friends and loved ones. We hate to miss the Shaw Christmas tomorrow at Mother's house --- our flight won't get in till 9 pm or so. Y'all have fun!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Real Children Need Real Solutions

I have no problems with sporting hunters, target shooters, or the owning of firearms for self-protection. There was certainly a need in the 1700s and later for a well-armed militia. (We have the greatest standing military in the world now.) So I have no problem with reasonable interpretations of the Second Amendment. (You can tell there's a big "but" coming, can't you?)

BUT, that doesn't mean assault weapons and huge clips should be available to the general population or that crazy folk should be allowed arms, or that arms should be allowed into any and every location in the country.

It is time to get rid of assault weapons and big clips and to close gun show loopholes, and make sure reasonable limitations can be established to give us a shot(!) at preventing the slaughter that happens every year in this wonderful country.

Guns don't kill people, but often people who shouldn't have guns do, and they use them to kill thousands of people in America every year.

BTW Someone is going to be tempted to suggest arming teachers. Please don't. Even if that weren't insane on the face of it, it would be insanely impossible politically. Let's keep the discussion in the real world where 20 real first graders were shot and killed last Friday along with thousands of real Americans over the last 12 months.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

In Memoriam - Frances Hancock

Our family had spent the week at Callaway Gardens on vacation. I think we camped at FDR State Park. I had rented a canoe and, like the teenage imbecile I was, paddled around for hours shirtless. I had the worst sunburn of my life -- raised blisters on my shoulders. But it had been a fun week and our exhausted but happy carload pulled into the driveway of the handsome brick parsonage on Timothy Avenue in Summerville park, ready to unload and rest up.

We were surprised to see someone mowing our front lawn. It was our tall family friend and Trinity United Methodist Church board chairman, Leonard Hancock. Leonard was an executive with the historic Rome business The Fairbanks Company. He had helped me illustrate some of the procedures they used in the manufacture of wheels for industrial equipment for a school project in high school. He and my father had the important connection -- brotherhood really -- of being fellow Marines.

Today this wonderfully gentle man, one of my fathers closest friends and parishioners, had the sad task of informing my father that his dad, my Daddy Shaw, had died suddenly.

And I had the sad task, but memorable privilege, of driving my Daddy -- leaving probably less than an hour later -- from Rome to Conyers to join his mother and brothers in grief. Only the second time I had ever witnessed my father cry.

It is strange, I suppose, that such a sad occurrence should tie me so emotionally to a family, but it did. Leonard's obviously genuine concern and gentle manner that day endeared him forever to me.

This week Leonard's equally gentle and loving widow died. Her funeral was right at the end of the school day on Friday and I felt I shouldn't ask for a second special time off for the week (my co-workers and principal had already covered for me for another funeral earlier in the week) so I didn't get to attend. My mother and the Rev. Wayne Hopper presided. I am sorry I missed it.

Leonard and Frances were a model couple. Their love for each other was obvious to anyone who witnessed them together. And they doted on their precocious son, Sam.

Sam, you have a grand heritage in both of your parents. I miss them and I know you do. I am saddened by their passing.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

PTSW: Heads Or Tails

I don't know the poet, but this is a useful bit:

We have two ends
With a common link.
With one we sit.
With one we think.
Success depends
On which you use.
Heads, you win.
Tails, you lose.
- Unknown