Tuesday, June 04, 2013

FILM: The Shrew v The Goofball

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about women in film. Not film-makers and not independent film-making but women in Hollywood film – the ones that bring in the big bucks.  And I’ve been wondering a lot about why men can’t seem to make a film that shows a woman as a … well, woman. 

But perhaps I’m wrong …

Perhaps it's not that the women are being presented wrongly. Perhaps it's the notion of Who Is What in a film that we need to talk about.

During the promotion for Knocked Up – a film I liked a lot – it's lead female star, Katherine Heigl, made this comment:

"It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie."

The result is that neither her co-star Seth Rogan or director Judd Apatow have spoken to her since. In fact,  Rogan dismissed her comments as 'batshit crazy' when he was asked about her on the Howard Stern Show a couple of years ago.  

Which is where the problem lies.

Because it's simply ridiculous to dismiss what Heigl says just because it could be construed as a criticism of your film. It's not. It's an observation.  Heigl has a reputation of speaking her mind and it's had an impact on her career. But that doesn't mean that what she says here isn't worthy of wider consideration.

Because it's impossible to ignore that what Heigl says about the women in this film is true: Knocked Up  DOES portrays its women as 'shrews ... humorless and uptight' whilst its men are 'lovable, goofy, fun-loving'?  Her high-acheiving character's just been landed with the child of an unemployed stoner - she's not going to be playing for laughs at that point in her life.

Katherine's Alison is not the fun one. Rogan's Ben's the fun one: a loser stumbling around trying to do the right thing. Ben's the one you root for, not Alison who could - quite frankly - do it on her own anyway. 

Batshit crazy, then? Not at all.

But these two characters being so different and, in some ways, unappealing isn't wrong. It's one of the basic devices of comedy: two people who shouldn't get along trying to get along. It's not about women being one thing or men another. Putting your characters into awkward situations is how you make your audience laugh. If it were two goof-balls or two uptight shrews, it'd be whole different story. For the odd couple premise to work you need one straight guy and one funny guy. Great comedy pairings are all about this.

Conveniently enough, The Odd Couple is a great example of this.

Jack Lemmon's Felix is Heigl's uptight shrew. Constantly cleaning up and complaining about Walter Mattau's Oscar's disgusting goofball lifestyle - just as Alison is appalled by Ben's.  It's funny because Felix is Walter's friend and the friendship they have is suddenly put under strain by their living arrangements.

In Tina Fey's under-rated Baby Mama (maybe the name didn't help and the trailers ...guh) Tina's Kate is anal about her beautiful home and protective of her successful career in organic living. Amy Poehler's rough-and-ready Angie is all about junk-food, crappy computer games and general loafing.  The humour comes from them trying to live together.

Even Dumb & Dumber pitched Jeff as the straight guy to Harry.

The reason why I'm talking about this, though, isn't because it's not 'right' to have a shrew and a goofball as your main protagonists.  My problem is that, in commercial Hollywood, the shrew is persisting  That while either one in a comedy pairing can be the funny guy, the laughs are consistently going to the goofball man.  That's what Heigl was alluding to.  That's what we should all be thinking about: is the theme of men and women in comedy not updating itself to reflect more modern attitudes?

Or is it that simply no-one can quite believe that women are funny enough to carry it?

Friday, May 24, 2013

GENERAL: Spam Comments

I get a lot of spam comments on my blog but I have to say that THIS is my all time favourite.

It feels a lot like my brain when I make myself sit in front of the computer with nothing to say.

I especially like 'anal acrobata pattycake' - I'm pretty sure a friend of mine had that once.

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FILMS: The Two Types of Women (according to Bromances)

Do not even get me STARTED on this:

I can only assume Grown Ups 2's subtitle is Men Rule! Women: Not So Much.

I haven't seen it. I mean, if I wanted to watch a bunch of privileged men shirking their responsibilities and being dicks all day, I'd watch Parliament TV.  But those WOMEN. My GOD. Those moany old sows being all annoyed at their fun-loving fellas. Poor men.

I'm guessing that film shares the same depth of female character development plumbed by THIS doozie:

It's a funny-ish film. I like Zac Gallaifliifjakis. I don't like how they leave their friend roasting on top of an hotel and I don't like the mess they leave behind.

But what I don't like the MOST is how they show women.  Yeah it's a bromance. I get that. Women aren't going to feature heavily and that's fine. But at least put some THOUGHT into those you do choose to feature. There's more to being a woman than being really, really nice and really, really horrible.  I know. SHOCKER.

First off Ed Helm's fiance is just despicable. She's mean-spirited, spoiled and generally a complete fucking bitch.

But what's this? A cute little lady who's super good fun but also happens to be an 'escort'?

Oh PURLEASE.  These are the laziest depictions of women in a film EVER.  It's like the writers have only seen two films: Porky's and Porky's 2.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is exactly how the character discussions for these two went:

'Right. So that's all the guys done. I guess we should look at the women.'

'God, I am dying for a drink. We've been in here for eight hours.'

'Five more minutes, guys. That's all.'


'So Stu's going to marry this woman. But when he's in Vegas he gets drunk and ends up with someone completely different.  What do you think?'

'Hey. I know. Let's make his fiance a complete bitch so that everyone hates her and no-one feels sorry for her when Stu jilts her on her wedding day.'

'Genius! And we can have the other woman as an exotic dancer who may, or may not, be a hooker! But she's super sweet and innocent and only does it for cash for her baby.'

'I think we've nailed it fellas. Margaraitas back at mine?'

'I'll bring the blender!'

And the most depressing thing about it all is that Heather Graham looks so HAPPY about it.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

FILM: STAR TREK - INTO DARKNESS - where have all the women gone?

I lo-o-oved JJ Abram's 2009 Star Trek. I mean, seriously blown away by it. It was paced to perfection with a time-travel storyline so mind bogglingly good that each time I watch it I find myself still chasing how everything fits together. That is a sign of a really good film for me.

Last night I watched its sequel, Into Darkness, and was not disappointed. Even more exciting with the fabulous Benedict Cumberbatch (Cumberbunch in our house, I just.can't.say.it) in all kinds of brilliant villainy. I love his journey from the snivelling toad on Starter for Ten to an action star who has, and I take no pride in saying this, a really sexy run. I know. I am SO predictable.

Anyway.  Yes: yes, great film, great visuals, good story, good dialogue (although Bones is reduced to a vehicle for dour one-liners, lurking in the background of adrenaline-filled scenes with all the warmth and likeability of a Tory back bencher opening a new state school in Streatham), great sets and nice looking people.

I really enjoyed it.



The film is set in the early/mid 2200s and while there are women at a ratio of about 75/25 (men/women) in the worker ranks of Star Fleet, elsewhere it appears that the strides in the workplace that women have taken over the past fifty years clearly stalled somewhere around 2100.

It was only a short part of the film, and the second bit I mention was seriously nip-to-the-loo-and-you've-missed-it.


One of the key early scenes, where all the commanders, admirals, basically all the big cheeses in Star Fleet, are called for a summit, the members of the meeting are almost entirely male.

Seriously? In 200 years, women still aren't in those top jobs?

The only woman at the table was this Vulcan woman.

I may be being a cynic but she's good ten years younger than the rest of the old farts around that table (apart from Kirk because, natch, he's like some boy wonder).  She also appears in the second Big Cheese Meeting again, surrounded by even more gouty-looking colleagues.  Maybe she's a stellar candidate - maybe she's a female Kirk. Which would be awesome.

But I doubt that's what JJ Abrams had in mind when he cast for Big Cheeses.  But even if he did. Even if this spunky young woman is another wunderkind, just the one? One woman on that table was enough?  It bothers me so much that no-one thought that the current male-dominated Top Tables may have changed in 200 years.  That alongside the puffed up male generals and admirals, there might be an equally puffed up female general or admiral with years and experience and authority under her belt. A woman who might also have earned their place at that table through skill at leading, inspiring, strategizing and all the other kinds of 'ings' Big Cheeses need to have shown.  God forbid more than one.

I know it's a TINY part of the story, but isn't it a little narrow-minded to completely overlook the fact that women are becoming increasingly more present in the board room and in the military?  Not as much as they should, but it is growing. How amazing would it have been if JJ Abrams (or his casting agents, both of whom were women ....) had decided to acknowledge this trend of equality and just put a few women in there. Not loads. Not even a 50/50 split. Just some.

I don't know. Maybe the women in Star Fleet struggle to climb the Corporate Ladder because they're stuck in these outfits.

The sight of Carol climbing into a shuttle whilst trying to maintain some kind of gusset-free dignity really underlined the impracticality of the female uniforms.  Women don't travel in them: they wear grey jumpsuits (I mistyped that originally as jumpshits which is AWESOME) just like their male colleagues. And Uhulu changed into something far more practical - TROUSERS - for her assault on the Klingons.

This clearly indicates to me that those mini-dresses are nowhere near as practical for the business of space travel as they look. And don't even get me started on the sorts of havoc to be wreaked on the back of a bare thigh during a long shift on a plastic chair in a skirt that short ...

I mean, look how uncomfortable Zoe Saldana looks in this shot as she relaxes with her colleagues:

Isn't it about time that, with such a brilliant renaissance of a dated brand, that women were included in the redux too?  I mean, Uhulu's a great female character with all sorts of power - more of her would be wonderful. But I was suspicious of physics doctor Carol who just seemed too young and beautiful to be who she said. And rightly so because this is what Abrams thought of her:

It's not enough to have female characters with outstanding abilities in translation and physics when you diminish them like that. It's not good enough to make your female characters everything: it's not good enough to make them doctors with great racks.  That is not what being a modern woman is about.

A successful and inspiring woman is exactly the same kind of person as a successful and inspiring man.  She doesn't need a bloody washboard stomach and tits up to here to be good at what she does. (unless she's a model, natch)

Bones. Scotty. Chekov. Sulu.

You don't see them in their skivvies but their knowledge and skills make them key characters.  Carol's some kind of physics genius but Abrams has also chosen to give her a smoking bikini bod. WHY HASN'T THE WORLD  OF 2250 MOVED ON FROM THIS POSITION? God, it depresses me that my great, great, great, great granddaughter will be facing the self-same bollocks I currently ignore. According to Abrams, anyway.

Just because Abrams and his production crew are trying to stay true to the original 1960s design, does that include attitudes to women. If a male black character had been depicted as intellectually inferior or a Jewish character as greedy would they have stuck to those hideous out-dated stereotypes? Just because the women were basically sexed up phone operators in the original series, doesn't mean that the women in the new films have to continue to be beholden to those dated attitudes of objectification and simplification.

This is a Sci-Fi film for a whole new generation of girls, and it's a good, powerful, fun film. It's just such a shame JJ Abrams missed the trick that women have come further than space travel since Star Trek first aired. Maybe next time he'll put one bright old admiral broad amongst all those farts on the Big Cheese Board and one bright young woman may be inspired to boldly go where no man has gone before ...

Friday, May 10, 2013


I am SO excited because The Apprentice is back. It really is the only thing on TV I actually remember to watch - apart from Homeland and ... well, Homeland, really. 

The first two episodes have been that heart-racing mix of hilarious stupidity and outright nob-ending and I LOVE IT.

Two things are already standing out for me:

1. Why are most of the girls dressed like they're auditioning for a Business Lady Stripper role?  Have I missed something or can you not be taken seriously as a woman in business unless you wear six inch fuck-me heels and do your hair like Katie Price? They're attractive women, but they looked like dolls sitting at the boardroom table.

And one of them's a doctor for God's sake. It's embarrassing.  I was genuinely gutted when Jaz left - as comedian Kathryn Ryan rightly noted, she was the only one who didn't look like they'd had their make-up done by Take Me Out.

It's also hugely disappointing that one of the candidates chose to describe herself as having the 'energy of the Duracell bunny, the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit and the brain of Einstein' yet then went on to ask who the president of the UK was ... If you're going to sell yourself as something, at least try to live up to it.

There's nothing wrong with being a sexy, powerful, successful woman. Of course there isn't. But there is something wrong when you notice the shoes first and the business sense second. 

2. The boys are no better. A clutch of posturing, vain, dim-witted morons all shouting over each other how bloody amazing they are at selling, guys.  The kind of men who think that if you say something enough times, it's true.  Even the Silly Shit PhD student is useless - anyone who undercuts HIS OWN COLLEAGUE is a fuckwit on any planet.

However, my favourite is Alex Mills who dresses like Del Boy and came up with the Silly Shit's name of the Silly Shit and also called him a Pleb in fury. I didn't even know that was still in use (outside of Tory MPs, natch, whose entire cannon of swearwords are sourced solely from Biggles stories). His camel coat worn over the shoulders a' la Jerry from The Good Life ... AWESOME.

At this point, it's too wide a playing field to say who might win, but I'm going to say the final five will, hopefully, be: 

Ice Maiden Stephanie - she may be unpopular with the other women, but I like her humanity.

The one wearing Laboutins (Natalie?) - she seemed on it a bit more than the rest at the Brewery.

Niall The Cock - the cocks always seem to stay in and are good value.

The Body (Miles?) - he seems cool and calm enough to get through a Board Room Attack.

Alex. Because he's bloody brilliant.

The rest will be nailed by their own desperation.

Friday, May 03, 2013

WRITING: Is Chick Lit really just a woman's world?

The other week, I went to an author's night which included the rather wonderful Polly Williams (who, it turns out, is a friend of mine's sister-in-law - I know - this means we're essentially related) speaking on a panel about her current book.  She was joined by Veronica Henry and Ciara Geraghty ( both brilliantly engaging too - Ciara in particular is hilarious: if you get a chance to see her at a book event, go. She also has awesome hair).  All three were super bright, articulate and funny - it was such an inspiring night I came out all aglow.

But, since then, something that Polly said during the course of the evening keeps snagging in my head. She was sharing an anecdote about how a stuffy literary broad-sheet critic had savaged one of her early books and how, a few years later, she happened to be seated next to him at a wedding. He was, of course, nervously charming and everything ended up happily, but the review still stung.

Polly was incredibly discreet and did not name or give away any identifying features but from what was said, he was clearly a middle-aged white man.  I'm guessing of the kind that's predisposed to calling you 'dear' from the moment you're introduced. (Veronica Henry guessed straight off who it was, btw, (and was equally discreet) because he'd also ripped one of her books apart.)

I can't remember exactly how he'd done it, but it was a fairly ruthless assassination of Polly's book that, in the main, women had embraced and enjoyed.

But we all laughed at how of course he'd be a shit about those books.  Of course he would because they weren't aimed at him, anyway!

Which is what's stuck with me: that it was accepted in that room, by practically everyone, that this stuffy old fart wouldn't like Polly's book.

It seems that we all accept that genres, in particular gender genres, are still very much alive and kicking. We are accepting that this book - the one with the soft, feminine cover - this is for girls. This one here, with the  sweat sheen muscular forearm with a smear of car oil beneath a bright yellow, angry font. That's for boys.

Are we still writing in sexes?

It's not about women writers. Not at all.  There are men writing Women's Commerical Fiction now too and plenty of women write Literary fiction (isn't all writing literature??? Whatevs, don't get me started on THAT).

It's about the audience.

One of the most frustrating things is that women readers, as a sex, are a genre.

If you asked Andy McNabb (sorry, he's the most opposite of Polly Williams I can think of) who his audience was, would he say 'Men'? No. He'd say: 'People who like fast-paced, violence-rich, kind of non-story stories'.

Do you think Hilary Mantell says 'Women?'. No. She says 'People who are interested in challenging, literary historical fiction'. (I guess. I'm pretty sure she'd put it a whole lot better than that. Hilary Mantell is AWESOME).



We even have a specific CATEGORY for us: Women's Commercial Fiction. What authors are in Commercial Fiction? What's the difference between that and the category with the word Woman at the front?

And the WORST thing about it is this: it is totally acceptable for fiction written for women to be seen as the easy option.  It's okay for people to say the word Chick Lit with a sneer, even by some who write within the genre. It's expected for books tackling tough subjects - Jojo Moyes' for example - to have soft, girly covers. It is a given that fiction written FOR WOMEN will not get a decent review from a man who writes for a broadsheet newspaper. Commercial Women's Fiction, for those outside of the circle, is dismissed as fluff and nonsense. It fills their pretty little heads and keeps them quiet for the weekend.

Why don't we expect critics to like books written in this genre, even if they are old farts?  Why do we accept being marginalised?

If we really think 'oh he just won't get it' then we'll never get out of the sidelines. What's to GET? It's a funny, touching, romantic etc. story with a (in the main) female protaganist. WHAT IS SO HARD TO 'GET' ABOUT THAT???  If the Old Fart wouldn't connect with that story, why did the newspaper ask him to REVIEW IT????

When I first published my Chick Lit book on Amazon, it was uncategorised, but I was still surprised that the first person to read and report back on it was my ex-boyfriend from school. A very Alpha male ex-boyfriend who said it wasn't what he'd usually read but he'd actually really enjoyed it. He knows I'm married so I'm guessing it wasn't part of some ruse to get me back (we snogged for three weeks 20 years and 20lbs ago). Which means there's a whole world of books out there that this man who, it appears, always wears sunglasses and likes guns, would absolutely love but he's not been made aware of.

I call that a travesty. A TRAVESTY.

BUT ...

Having said that: do we want to come out of the sidelines? It's not as if money's not being made over there and it's offering talented women (and men) success.  Do we, readers and writers of Women's Commercial Fiction, actually choose to be in a world of our own where are stories are discovered by people like us and adored in a way that few other genre books are. Do we care that Old Farts don't like them?

And how much does it matter anyway? Polly Williams' career was hardly destroyed by that dreadful review.

I guess the itch that can't quite be scratched is the acceptance of marginalisation. I like that there is a whole network out there of greedy readers who can't wait to get their mitts on the latest release. I guess that what makes me sad is that it just feels like we're limiting ourselves.  These are, at the end of the day, REALLY GOOD BOOKS and those people who dismiss them as 'just' Chick Lit don't know what they're missing.  That's all.

So am I right? Is it time to rise up against the ChickLit dismissers?

Or am I less right - is being part of an exclusive club a powerful place to be?

Download my book from Amazon today for a sunny Bank Holiday read!

One Way Or Another - Lucy Barker

Friday, February 15, 2013


I'm doing some research for a story I'm working on at the moment and came across a place called The Parting of the Ways which is in the north of Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

This is where the California and Oregan Emigrant trail diverged and travellers decided whether they kept on the main route to towards Fort Bridger or cut across the Little Colorado Desert on a 'Cut Off'.  Opened in 1844, it offered a much faster journey - shaving 46 miles on the journey - but while the main route was well-watered, taking this option included fifty-or so waterless miles.  Still, some travellers were more risky than others and from 1849 it's popularity increased with people keen to get to the other side as quickly as possible.

There's something so significant about this little fork in the road: there's no particular landmark here that would make a deviation in course obvious. The only way it became ... anything was because one day someone called Greenwood (FACT) went right.  And then the people behind went right. And then the people behind. And then someone put it on a map. 

What I love from this image is that even though the wagons stopped going through here about a hundred years ago, the wheel ruts are still so clear and the sagebrush plain is still wide open.  You don't have to even imagine what it was like. Sure it's not hearts and flowers romantic, but there's something so historically romantic about this that it fills me up with inspiration.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


When I was little my parents could only have fish pie if I was out of the house for the evening. I really, really hated it. Even the residual smell when I returned would make me gag.

Now, though ... well. I'm a bit more grown up. I can just about eat a prawn without thinking about its wife, children and the fact that its diet consists of little more than poop.  Making a fish pie is a bit of a milestone for me.

And I made one last night.

I've had the In the Mood For Food for years. I bought it because it had a nice pattern and she looked pretty but the recipes all looked a bit grown up for me.I did want to do the pomegranet salad: it's photographed in such a lovely little lunchbox, though, that I got distracted by wanting an equally lovely lunchbox too and the salad was forgotten. Discovering this little gem nestled inside has made all those years of moving it from house to house worth it.

I have to say, this recipe was easy and ridiculously tasty. The sauce was thick and silky and totally lumpless - I couldn't believe I made it. The topping is made by grating the potatoes (I got Rob to do that), squeezing all the moisture out through a tea-towel and then cooking it off for a few minutes in butter before scattering the top.  I'd never even heard of that method.  My repertoire is definitely expanding.

And this is it on my plate with some peas.

And here's the recipe.

Fish Pie with Sweet Potato topping (although I used White) from Jo Pratt's In the Mood For Food
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 bunches spring onions, sliced
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 400 ml milk
  • 500 g cod, coley or haddock fillets, skinned and cut into chunks
  • 200 g cooked tiger prawns
  • 150 g smoked salmon, cut into strips
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill, or parsley
  • 1 lemon, grated zest only
  • squeeze lemon juice
For the topping
  • 700 g sweet potatoes, peeled - I used white potatoes in exactly the same way.
  • 40 g butter
  • 50 g matured cheddar cheese, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.

2. Melt the butter in a large pan, add the spring onions and cook until softened. Stir in the flour, and cook for about 30 seconds before gradually adding the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes until you have smooth thick sauce.

3. Stir in the white fish, prawns, smoked salmon, dill or parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Once the sauce is bubbling and the cod is starting to flake a little, remove from the heat.

4. Spoon into a large 1.5-1.8 litre pie dish or 4 individual dishes and leave to cool while you prepare the topping.

5. For the topping: coarsely grate the sweet potato. Place in a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess water.

6. Melt the butter in a pan and add the grated potato. Stir over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until the potato is coated in butter and starting to soften.

7. Scatter the potato over the top of the pie, leaving a rough topping rather than pressing it down. Sprinkle over the grated cheese.

8. Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the filling is starting to bubble over the edges.


So far, I've done three recipies from my Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals. My favourite so far has been the Pork Chops, Smashed Potatoes and Minty Savoy Cabbage.

I skipped the fennel seeds (I couldn't find them in the shops) and I didn't get the skin-on chops so there was no crackling.  So basically it was chops and potatoes, but doing the potatoes in the microwave gave them this really interesting stodgy but firm texture which we both really liked.  It's fun not skrimping on butter either. I felt very En Francaise.

Jamie really goes for combining flavours and sometimes this can be a bit much, but this was just right.  Maybe because I missed the fennel.  The lemon in the potatoes on their own was a bit 'hmmm' but with the chops it was 'oo'.

I also loved the Fiery Noodle Salad which is from the Chicken Skewers with Amazing Satay Sauce recipe. 

The chicken and satay sauce was nice enough, but the flavours in the noodle salad were AMUUZING.  And so easy.  Although you serve it cold with the warm chicken which wierded my husband out.  He ate it like it was alive, shooting me occasional, tentative looks and saying 'it's supposed to be cold, right?'.

Also got a good tip on how to thread the chicken onto the skewers. Showing here.


I mean, of all the images you'd want to recreate in coloured pencils, how far down the list do you think this was?

Technically really very good but ... that gurn forever immortalised in a 2B. Poor Hugh.

Friday, February 01, 2013


I've FINALLY got what YouTube's for.  So not only can I devote a good 75% of my working day looking for videos of Hugh Jackman, I can also UPLOAD things for people who like to look at, say, puppies enjoying their first visit to the beach.

This is Molly, our too-adored cockapoo puppy, discovering the beach.  She was just under three months then and is now a strapping almost five. Short of dressing her in a coat made of diamonds and french manicuring her claws, it's safe to say she's a ridiculously spoiled pup. 

Until recently she had the perfect cockapoo mop top but it was driving me nuts because I couldn't see her eyes and she wouldn't sit still long enough for me to put it into a glittery hairband, so I decided to give her a trim.  Now, I tend to think I can do anything but, as it turns out, I'm no dog groomer.  It was just supposed to be a gentle trim around the eyes but I basically Hathaway'd her.

Now it's hard to show what it was like before because she never stays still for long enough but it was a bit like this.

 And now it's like this.

And this is pretty much what it was like when I was doing it.

At least she's on trend.


Hey, hey! Have you seen this? Awe. Some.

Which, in turn, leads to this ... Who knew Doogie was this talented??

Btw, it's come to my attention that some youngsters don't know that Neil Patrick Harris is not just that dude from How I Met Your Mother (which is very good, also btw) but is and, to many of us always will be, Doogie Howser MD.  A show that was insanely popular when I was growing up.  Basically, NPH plays a child prodigy who is a qualified doctor and works in a hospital. Of course.

I really loved that show but I remember really trying to fancy him (because, you know, that's what I generally do in any given situation) and not quite succeeding.  The people (and I use that term loosely) I had more success in fancying included:

It's a pretty wide playing field.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


When Michael Ball interviewed Amanda Seyfried about Les Mis, she said that she'd really wanted to play Eponine rather than Cosette.  Last Friday, when my friends and I were baggsying parts to call our own, it was the last one in who ended up with Cosette.

Basically, it goes:

Valjean, Javert, Eponine, Fantine, Marius, The Thenadiers, Enjolras/Student Revolutionary, Gavroche, Montrieul Whore, Montrieul Factory Worker, Factory Foreman, A Poor Person, Army General. Cosette

But why?

She gets a lot of stage time - she doesn't die off like [spoiler] Fantine or Eponine - and she doesn't have to wear a costume that is, at best, slutty (Mdm Thenadier).  She's adored by the men of the show - even Javert rides out to her at the Thenadiers, if only to nab her as bait for Valjean.  And she gets to duet with Marius who tends to be the most attractive man on stage, aside from the red-blooded Enjolras, of course.

Yet she's still considered the duff role. 

So come on. What's wrong with Cosette?

Perhaps it's the same old thing that I alluded to in my previous post about Javert: we're more drawn to characters who are a little bit naughty. Cosette, by virtue of her ... virtue, is just too good to be interesting. 

But if that's true, then surely, no-one'd want to be Valjean either. If the worst thing you can do is steal a loaf of bread ...  Admittedly he did try to run off with the contents of the Bishop's cupboards, but he was driven to that.  His good was momentarily corrupted by bad (French monarchical criminal law).  However, he is unrelentingly 'good' going forward.  Nauseatingly so. But he's the FIRST character to be bagged when we're divvying up parts.

No, the difference between Cosette and Valjean is that while Valjean has strength - physical and emotional - Cosette's basically a drip.

It doesn't help that her vocal range is set so high either. Because Valjean is always redeemed for me by the gorgeousness of his songs and vocals.  Despite being a saint, these give him density and dimension.  It's tiresome that he's always worrying he's not really very good at all, but at least he's tiresome whilst singing songs with a bit of welly.

Cosette, on the other hand, sings somewhere in the realms of a dog whistle and offers very little insight into her inner life. In My Life is basically about how she doesn't know anything.  The girl's a total void.

And why? Because she has been kept in the dark about practically everything in her life.  She has been the catalyst for so much yet she's completely oblivious.  Amanda Seyfried's interpretation of this is excellent (even her Disney-esque c.1937 vocals are perfect for that bird-like Victorian heroine) - she brings not the usual child-like innocence to the role but a sense of complete bewilderment - a girl who's a completely unknown quantity, even to herself.

And she IS a quantity because, contrary to general loathing, I would like to propose that Cosette is the most powerful character in the story.  I know. Bear with me.  

See the whole story revolves around this girl.
Point 1: She makes Valjean realise he shouldn't give himself up to Javert
The discovery of Cosette's existence when he saves Fantine stops Valjean from turning himself into Javert.

Point 2: She gives Valjean a reason for lifving
Cosette makes Valjean realise what he wants - she gives him purpose. Admitedly to be a dullard, but still ... it's better than going back to being 24601.

Point 3: She saves Marius's life
Because Marius falls in love with her, Valjean saves Marius from the barricades.  If Marius had chosen Eponine, he'd be dead with all his friends.

Point 4: She saves Eponine from a life of woe
Okay, this is kind of tenuous, but it took Marius falling in love with Cosette for her to realise it was never going to happen. And, okay, she dies before discovering that actually, there's more to life than a dreamer and hitching herself to someone more worthy's wagon (ie a man who doesn't fall in love in the blink of an eye), but perhaps what awaited her was worse.  I mean, the Thenadiers are her parents after all ...

Point 5: She gives Javert a reason to kill himself
Because Valjean feels compelled to rescue Marius for Cosette, Valjean bargains with Javert for more time to make sure Marius lives.  Javert lets him go because of this.  And then jumps into the river.  If Valjean had emerged from the sewer alone, Javert would've had him for sure.

You see - she is the ULTIMATE plot point! It all turns on Cosette.  That's pretty important. 

So perhaps it isn't about Cosette herself that we're so nnnghhhh.  Maybe it's something in the way she's presented to us?

In short: perhaps it's time someone allowed her to be played with some balls?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


What I think we should all be aware of however, is that THIS exists.  You can imagine that for the first few songs everyone was like 'yay, go you!' but by the time they struck up 'I Know Him So Well', interest was waning.

WARNING: It's eyewateringly uncool.


Okay.  So the Les Mising continues.

After my second viewing of Les Mis on Friday night with two other COMPLETE geeks, we sat up all night (and I mean all night - thanks Merlot) discussing the merits of the film versus the stageshow whilst looking at clips of various relevant bits on YouTube (I finally get what YouTube's for!).

Anyway, one of the main things we talked about was Russell Crowe's interpretation of Javert.

It's no secret (ha! imagine if THAT was my secret!) that I am a Javert fan.  I love a bit of Valjean but, really, saints ain't my thing even if they DO keep on insisting they're just a man like any other man (that's what saints do - normal people think they're special).  No, I like the obsessive nature of Javert - he presents far more of a challenge.

Put it this way: if you happened across the pair of them just before closing time after a particularly boozy night in a pub, Valjean would be insisting on getting you into a cab and home safely while Javert would be ignoring you. Who would YOU go home with ...?

So yes. I'm Team Javert. 


Basically, Javert's the world's ultimate Jobsworth.

The biggest mistake is to think that Javert's evil. He's absolutely not.  His job is to capture bad people. If he believes Valjean is a bad person who keeps escaping, he'd not be doing his job if he didn't want to capture him.

Javert certainly doesn't think what he's doing is bad - in fact, he's absolutely, resolutely set against 'bad'.  That's who Javert is. And he just wants to do his best which isn't that much different to Valjean.  It's just that his best means capturing Valjean because he genuinely believes that he's a dangerous man. Why wouldn't he want to recapture him when he has gone against the law? 'I am the law and the law will not be mocked'.  Admittedly, it's a bit excessive for stealing a loaf of bread but not being a creative thinker, Javert's not necessarily in a position to question that.

However, it's a misnomer that capturing Jean Valjean is all Javert wants to do.  Javert's been working his way up the ranks. He starts off a prison guard in a humbling little cap, and ends up a man with silver epaulets.  This is a man who has had an excellent career. Considering he's never caught Valjean, his successful career must therefore be based on other achievements.  It may be a personal goal, but his work rarely suffers because of it, obviously.

Until the moment he allows Valjean to escape him.  He has him in his sights but he lets him go and it breaks him. So he [spoiler alert] kills himself.  He cannot exist in a world where there is grey between the black and white, so indoctrinated by the State is he, that he sees no other option.

You've got to feel for him, surely?


Now, Javert is usually depicted as a bit of an aspergersy bully who has no concept of A Time And A Place - eg: ambushing Valjean by Fantine's deathbed, infiltrating the barricade etc. The only flash of humanity is when he lets Valjean take Marius to safety. And after that, he kills himself.  He's like a cyborg of grim jobsworthiness.

He is strong. Like a bull. His vocals are as powerful, if not more so, than Valjean's. This man holds all the pent up anger and brutality of a man continuously crossed.

Ahh Colm.


Crowe's interpretation is very different.  For a start, he's got quite a weak vocal compared to Jackme Jackman.  But it's not a bad thing. It immediately sets them apart. Valjean the enduring good, Crowe the Wannabe.  He has intense moral courage, but without the flexibility that Valjean shows, he flounders.  He only knows the law and is only capable of reading things through this.  He is alone whereas Valjean plays with others well (if a little piously).

Crowe brings a real vulnerability to the role. A  real sense of a rounded person with insecurities he's always having to fight against. He's not this assured hunter - he's desperately trying to be better than he is.  He doesn't hunt Valjean, Valjean happens to wander across his path - in Montrieul and in Paris. He chases him but both times - when Valjean takes Cosette and when he emerges from the sewers - he gives up pretty quickly.  This man knows where he stands.

Crowe also begins his emotional collapse sooner than the traditional Javert: at the point when Valjean allows him to escape at the barricade.  So by the time he pins the medal to Gavroche, he is already questioning himself - it's also a moment that is so gentle and moving that you forget it's JAVERT. That's how fresh his interpretation is.

So he's not a huge, powerful voice. The subservient, jobsworth middle-manager that Crowe creates is far more powerful to me.

Plus he gets to wear that hat without a single ounce of shame. Now THAT takes acting chops.

Jacking Jackman

I am as giddy as a foal because I have FINALLY found someone to fancy.  It's been a while since I got all scrabbly and 'must-look-at-pictures-of...' about a fella (who wasn't my husband. ahem).  There was Joshua Jackson back in the Pacy days.  And, God, I was OBSESSED with Heroes' Sylar - I still even fancied him in Star Trek (I do like me a bit of buttoned down guy).  But there's a new kid on the block.

Hugh Jackme Jackman.

Admittedly, not based on THIS look:

Because that would be like fancying Jesus. I'm not sure you're allowed to do that.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I'm a total nutball for musicals so the new Les Mis film has completely toasted my toes and made my life complete (for a while).  Add to that the discovery that Hugh Jackman isn't just this:

But is actually THIS too:

Eyes. Wide. Open. Thank you very much. What a LOVELY surprise. I mean, I didn't go wild for his voice which is perfectly good.  Very good, infact.  But as Jean Valjean, I'm so deeply bathed in Colm Wilkerson that anyone else is a bit Stars In Their Eyes for me.

So, no, my obsession did not begin with him in Les Mis. Oh yes, I was tickled but not set aflame. No. The fire came from THIS:

Because MAN, you just know you'd have such an AWESOME time with him. 

I mean, I can even forgive him for doing the guns because you know that he's doing them because he's AWESOME and awesome people are allowed to Gun.  It's in the bible.

Imagine if that Gun was for you ... In your underwear. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Up With Javert?

I really loved this blog post about Javert not being a lean-thinker.  I had no idea what a lean thinker was until I read this post, in fact, and have since discovered that I, like Javert, am not a lean thinker.  It's not the only similiarity I share with him either.  I like hats too.



And I tend to shout numbers in people's faces.  It's like a tic.  But I don't have any photos of me doing that.

Anyway.  I recommend this article because it really does get to the nub of what Being Efficient means (and it's not me).


When Lust Turns To Meh

The crumb in the corner of your mouth
Puts a chink in the glass of your perfection
And the wonder of you drains away
Leaving just the crumb in the corner of your mouth
And the sad knowing that you, after all, are not the one.