Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Of course I had to watch this movie, on its opening day. If there had been a way for me to watch the New York premiere, I would have. Les Miz is one of those musicals that, when it came out in 1985, created such a stir and struck a chord with so many, that immediately talk was rife about the imminence of a movie version. My first exposure to the music was through my friend, Jaime del Mundo, and I was immediately entranced by BRING HIM HOME, I DREAMED A DREAM, ON MY OWN, STARS, and ONE DAY MORE. I vowed to watch it one day, and watch it I did, in Toronto in 1991. The staging, by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, did not disappoint, and it was the first time I had seen a theater production that was set on a revolve from start to end. I thought, how so much like a movie this show is.
And now, we have the movie version, which does not disappoint. Of course this is a movie adaptation, and the material had to be edited to translate it to cinematic terms, so purists shouldn't expect a transliteration of the musical. The most remarkable aspect of this movie though is that the actors sang their songs live as the movie was shot, making for a more visceral interpretation of the music. This is not the first time that music used in a movie was recorded live during the shoot (n.b. 'ROUND MIDNIGHT, or the movie that beat THE MISSION for Oscar Best Music, Original Score in 1987), but it is the first time to have recorded actors singing live. This technique makes the singing and acting more seamless and "real," and is most palpable in Jean Valjean’s (remarkably played by Hugh Jackman) WHO AM I, and the soon-to-be classic, I DREAMED A DREAM, sung by Anne Hathaway, playing Fantine. The latter number left the audience breathless, and in tears. Shot in one take (I wonder if there were other takes) with one camera, the number begins with Fantine prone in a crib-like bed, having just been birthed into the lowest of her life’s lows, when she succumbs to prostitution in order to support her daughter Cosette, and singing the introduction of the song a capella. She slowly rises, as the instrumental of the song is played, and sums up her life in the heartbreaking solo. The movie audience, atypical in our neighborhood, broke into applause after the number. The hype that this number is enjoying in press and in social media is not hype. This is one showstopper that will be remembered for a long, long time. I hope that after Martin Nievera watches this movie, he will have the good sense to re-record his bastardization of this beautiful song. Better yet, to destroy all existing copies of the original recording. But then again, no ugly interpretation of this song will be able to survive in anyone’s consciousness after Anne Hathaway’s masterful version.
I dissed Eddie Redmayne in the trailers as mukhang bisugo and Amanda Seyfried as boses ipis. My apologies. In the movie, they vindicate themselves quite well. Most of the rest of the leads are good, notably Samantha Barks, who plays Eponine without sentimentality. Russell Crowe is the odd man out in the movie. Although a gifted actor, he is sadly a weak singer, which is all the more highlighted by the fact that (1) all his co-actors are vocally strong, and (2) his character is an intimidating monster of a single-minded buffoon. His singing is truly disappointing, and at some points, sounds like it was learned from the Vilma Santos School of Singing. I think he did what he did at the end of his final number out of shame, not for compromising his principles, but because of his singing.
Another disappointment in the movie is how the songs with counterpoints (ONE DAY MORE, A HEART FULL OF LOVE) are shot. On stage, the actors singing different parts can be blocked in levels or by having each group take downstage at the point of their solo. In the movie, it was quite disconcerting to see the editing from actor to actor, or group to group in such a hasty manner.
Still, Russell Crowe or not, faulty editing or not, LES MISÉRABLES is one movie that will be remembered by audiences for a long time. It is not perfect, but it is beautiful. By the way, a new song was composed for the movie, purportedly to push the story forward and to vocalize Valjean's thoughts when he adopts Cosette. But we all know that this is also to get it nominated for Best Original Song in the Oscars, right? Whatever the reason is, it is engaging, and may become a love song for some people.
P.S. The actor who originated the role of Jean Valjean in London's West End and on Broadway, Colm Wilkinson, plays the role of the kind Bishop who paves the way for Valjean to go on the straight and narrow.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
I was going to a potluck party to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of my hometown, Ozamiz City, and the school where I finished my elementary and high school studies. Most everyone was bringing either a pork dish or a dessert, so I decided to bring caldereta.
Problem was, I didn’t know how to cook this dish. I’d eaten a number of versions, my Lola Inday’s being my favorite. There was the carinderia or cafeteria version, the Mama Sita version, and the Batangas version. I particularly like my Lola’s, because it was rich, savory and the one I grew up on. I also favor the Batangas version, which is almost all-meat, and the sauce is mostly beef fat. I had no time to get my Lola’s recipe so I went to my friend Connie Santiago-Veneracion’s hugely popular and successful website to look up her recipe. I like Connie’s recipes, least of all because she is a friend, but because her recipes are fool-proof, delicious and tested personally by her. I tweaked her recipe a bit, adding yellow and green peppers to contrast with the red sauce, reducing the amount of the liver and using beer instead of water to tenderize the beef. I also amped up the garlic and baked the potatoes instead of frying them. I’m too lazy to be watching over frying potatoes. I find baking more efficient because I don’t have to watch the cooking, but also because I can bake the potatoes and liver at the same time. You can substitute the liver with chicken liver spread but fresh liver is cheaper AND tastier.
CALDERETANG BAKA (6 servings)
1 kilo / 2.2 lbs. beef (chuck. Ask your butcher to cut the beef for you. Saves you a lot of time)
2 large white onions, finely chopped (I used a mandolin because I have no knife skills)
1 kilo / 2.2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, finely chopped (best to use overripe plum tomatoes. Again, I relied on the mandolin to slice the tomatoes) OR
1 can (33 1/2 oz.) of diced or crushed tomatoes. Choose Spanish or Italian brands)
3 heads of garlic, minced (I pounded them using a mortar and pestle, peeled them, and let the food processor do the rest)
2 medium pcs. yellow bell peppers, chopped
2 medium pcs. green bell peppers, chopped
3 cups chopped carrots or baby carrots
½ cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Extra virgin olive oil
1/8 kilo / ¼ lb. chicken livers
5 medium pcs. potatoes, cut into large cubes
2-3 cups water (or a bottle of beer. Choose a lager or pilsen. If using a dark beer, you may choose to omit the chicken liver. Another option is to use red wine. I prefer a hearty Shiraz)
1 cup seedless green olives
1 medium piece jalapeño pepper or siling labuyo (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the beef into 2″ chunks, season with salt and pepper and sear in a heavy sauce pan or Dutch oven. Remove seared meat from the pan or Dutch oven, and sauté the garlic just before it turns golden brown, then sauté the onions for about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Stir, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir and simmer for another 5 minutes.
|Brown the meat in batches, not in one go.|
|The beer was so tempting to drink. But I stayed disciplined.|
|The tomatoes looked really good. I like using fresh instead of canned tomatoes, which tend to be more acidic.|
|The stew, after about an hour of simmering.|
|The finished product. I'm proud to say that this 7-quart pot was eaten up, with only the veggies to pack home.|
2. Add the beef and bay leaf to the cooked vegetables. Pour in the liquid (water, beer or wine). Add the tomato paste, stir well and bring to a boil.
3. Lower the heat, cover and simmer. After an hour, add the carrots, olives and bell pepper. Simmer for one more hour or until the meat is fork tender. Stir occasionally during cooking. If the sauce becomes too dry before the meat is cooked, add more liquid (water, beer or wine), about half a cup at a time. Correct the seasonings.
4. While the beef simmers, wash, peel and cut the potatoes into wedges. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes.
5. Clean the chicken livers, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake along with the potatoes. When cooked, blend or pass through a food processor with a little beer or sauce from the simmering caldereta until smooth.
6. When the beef is cooked, add the broiled potatoes and mashed liver. Stir until the liver is incorporated into the sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Drizzle olive oil before serving over warm rice or crusty bread.
If you like to eat well, live well, listen well and have the patience to go through my kilometric but hopefully entertaining blogs, then this is the page for you. I chose EATERSHIP because it sounds like "leadership," and because if you jumble it up, it could also read "hip eaters." Eat and read on!