The musings of a feminist pop culture fanatic

Archive for January, 2013

Glee Recap: Sadie Hawkins (yeah, this ridiculous plot device still exists)

By the title of the episode, it’s safe to assume this is about a Sadie Hawkins dance. Now, I have never actually heard of this type of dance being done anywhere other than on television shows. I’m sure they used to be super popular, back before teenage girls realized there was no law against them asking a boy (or another girl) to any sort of dance. The idea that teenage girls need a special kind of dance to be empowered and ask someone rather than waiting to be asked is pretty offensive. I asked my prom date to the dance instead of the other way around. The world didn’t go up in flames. I wasn’t shunned. His mancard wasn’t revoked for getting asked by a girl. No, none of that happened because this is the 21st century. For any teenage girls who might read this, know that you can always ask someone to a dance or out on date or whatever. There is no shame in it. And hopefully, we will one day see a world where the idea of a Sadie Hawkins dance is nothing more than a distant reminder of the past.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s get into the action.

Previously on Glee: The Warblers blew the New Directions out of the water at Sectionals, but the loss got blamed on Marley’s eating disorder and then no one cared (other than her mom) to get her any sort of professional help. Sue took over the choir room. Puck moved back to Lima. The Jarley storyline continued. Kurt randomly got an audition for NYADA and he got in!

Sam is obsessing over the Sectionals loss. He is convinced that their change from the side-stepping Warblers of two years ago into the acrobatic powerhouses of this year is due to steroids. Blaine isn’t fully on board yet, but Sam is convinced. He knows that not all the Warblers competed and he thinks there was something definitely fishy about their win.

This is also the week of weird, sudden crushes. Blaine is crushing on Sam. Tina is crushing on Blaine. I’m really hoping these crushes are for one episode only because I love the Blam bromance and the Blatina friendship. I don’t want unrequited love getting in the way there. The only kind of adorable crush is Neck Brace Cheerio constantly trying to get up the nerve to ask out Ryder. Eh, I ship it.

Tina has the bright idea to have a Sadie Hawkins dance. Ugh. She came up with it at her meeting of the “Too Young to Be Bitter” Club. Double ugh. The only good thing about this storyline is that it reintroduced Lauren Zizes. I missed Ashley Fink. Anyway, now that our patriarchal society has given the McKinley girls permission to ask boys out, the boys are all freaking out about getting asked.

Beiste and Finn have a really great scene. Mainly because everything involving Beiste is great. He’s bummed because Sue took over the classroom and now the Glee Club is like “fugees” (by which he means refugees) who don’t have a home. He also is stressed because without competition, he has to come up with a weekly lesson for them. Except he doesn’t because he’s not a damn teacher. Remember that part of the plot? He can’t be a teacher because he’s 18 and only has a high school diploma. Oy vey. Anyway, Beiste gives him a pep talk and gives him the idea to have female empowerment as this week’s theme. I hate when Glee does female empowerment themes because it is never actually about female empowerment. It’s about a bunch of men and boys giving women and girls permission to be empowered for that week only. Look at their previous attempts in season 1’s Madonna episode and Season 3’s “I Kissed a Girl.”

So, the glee club theme of the week is “Ladies Choice,” in which the Glee Club girls sing to the boys they want to take to the dance. We get started off with Tina’s rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which she very awkwardly sings to Blaine. We get some flashbacks of Blaine being adorable and Tina falling for him. We also get a really great shot of Tina looking at Blaine’s ass, which is very nice. Look, as someone who is completely in love with Blaine, I get it, but he’s definitely gay. Blaine is the last to figure out that Tina is singing to him, even though she ends up singing directly in front of him. The whole club realizes what’s about to happen and it’s so awkward. Blaine is put in a terrible position and very gently lets her down.

Fans of the show might remember that Blaine divulged in the season 2 prom episode that he was violently beaten at a Sadie Hawkins dance for taking another guy, so he might have some issues with wanting to go to a dance of the same theme. However, when Tina later confronts him, he’s pretty much over that. No, he doesn’t want to go with Tina because he really wants to go with Sam, but Sam had already agreed to go with Brittany. Blaine is worried about being seen as a “predatory gay,” and we get some great scenes between Sam/Blaine and Blaine/Tina. Blaine and Tina talk about how Blaine needs some place to put his love after breaking up with Kurt. It’s a really great scene between the two of them and it just reminds me how phenomenal of an actor Darren Criss is. Tina decides that she and Blaine are going to go to the dance together as best friends. He reluctantly agrees.

Brittany decides to take Marley under her wing and encourage her to ask Jake to the dance. She promises to help Marley find her power and then walks away. When Marley asks where she’s going, Brittany says that music normally starts up after she says something like “It’s Brittany, bitch” or does one of her “magical turns.” Sure enough, she turns and suddenly, all the Glee girls are in adorable blue dresses, performing The Exciters’ “Tell Him.” It’s a fun performance and everyone gets really into it. At the end of the song, Marley gets on her knees and asks Jake to the dance. Brittany asks Sam. Neck Brace Cheerio knocks on the window and stares at Ryder.

Kitty corners Jake in the hallway and essentially offers her virginity in exchange for Jake taking her to the dance. She’s apparently over the Celibacy Club thing and has decided to just have sex whenever she wants. Jake decides to go to Puck for advice about what to do. Puck encourages Jake to stay the hell away from Kitty and give things a shot with Marley. Even though it’s basically a “sure thing,” Puck tells Jake it won’t be worth it since he really likes Marley. Later, Puck finds Kitty at school and tells her to stay away from Jake. She says the only way she will do so is if Puck goes to the dance with her instead. This is super creepy because Mark Salling doesn’t look even close to high school age anymore. I just feel like calling Child Protective Services…

So, we finally get to the dance. It basically looks awesome. We get a couple really great performances. The festivities start off with the guys of New Directions performing TLC’s classic “No Scrubs,” and it’s just as awesome as it sounds. They dedicate it to “all the powerful women out there.” It is probably my favorite performance of the episode. Between the big Glee Club performances, we get to see glimpses of the kids just having fun with each other. Marley tells Jake that she really likes him, but she wants to be exclusive and takes things slow. Beiste comes over to the “Too Young to be Bitter” Club and tells them to stop being wallflowers. She gives them a pep talk and gets them out on the floor. Lauren goes up to Joe and asks him to dance. Sugar asks Artie. It’s all kind of adorable. Blaine and Tina are dancing together and just as it seems they’re about to kiss, Sam comes up and steals Blaine away for a “major break in the case.” While Blaine and Sam are away, the ladies of New Directions perform Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” and it’s pretty much great. Puck and Kitty are actually having a good time together, even though Kitty would like him to stop dancing so spastically. Kitty tells Puck she actually really liked the screenplay Puck wrote, despite all the spelling errors. She proposes that they should relocate to her backseat. We close out the dance with Ryder taking lead on “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which is freaking adorable. Jake and Marley agree to be exclusive with each other. Neck Brace Cheerio continues to watch Ryder. Blaine comes back to Tina and invites her to slow dance with him. Sam and Brittany adorably dance together.

Sam and Blaine are trying to bring Finn in on the steroid conspiracy. They show him pictures of various Warblers from a couple months ago compared to now and try to convince him they are clearly using steroids. Finn still isn’t convinced. They show him a really hilarious video of Evil Warbler Hunter freaking out on some barista about putting Splenda in his latte. They declare this proof of ‘roid rage. Blaine offers up the show choir rule book and highlights the section where it says anyone using steroids is not allowed to compete. The rule is retroactive, so they have to prove that the Warblers were using at Sectionals and their win will be taken away. Finn says this is all great, but it’s just not enough to accuse such a well-respected glee club. He says he needs more proof. At that point, precious Warbler Trent (a.k.a. the round-faced one) comes out and tells Finn the horror stories of steroid use under Hunter’s regime. Blaine assures Trent that he isn’t ruining the Warblers; he’s actually saving them.

Kurt is at NYADA and finding that college is just like high school. Yeah, pretty much. Rachel has pretty much ditched Kurt in favor of her new romance with Brody. Complaints about that can be found below. Anyway, Kurt is trying to find his place in NYADA and looks at various extracurriculars. He sees a flyer for “Adam’s Apples,” which is apparently the NYADA showchoir. It’s run by a super adorable British guy named Adam, so I’m totally in favor of him joining. However, Rachel tries to quash that idea very quickly. Apparently, joining Adam’s Apples is like social suicide. Kind of like joining New Directions was, huh? Anyway, Kurt is still really thinking about joining Adam’s Apples. So, Adam finds Kurt on a staircase (kinda like how Blaine found Kurt at Dalton) and takes him to see a performance of Adam’s Apples. They perform an extremely controversial cover of Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back.” For those who didn’t know, they basically stole this arrangement from Jonathan Coulter, who was not very happy about this. It’s not bad. It’s a pretty atrocious song to begin with, but alas. The best thing about this scene, though, is that Starkid member and Darren Criss’s real-life bestie Joey Richter is one of the Adam’s Apples members. I kind of flipped my shit with joy. In later scenes, we see glimpses of Adam flirting with Kurt. It’s super adorable. I wanted to hate Adam, but he’s just so charming and it’s nice to see someone pursuing Kurt in such a sweet way. Kurt finally asks Adam out for coffee and he says yes.

Rachel and Brody’s relationship is quickly progressing. She even asked him to stay over, without even consulting Kurt. That just seems rude, considering there are no walls in their loft. Rachel continues to blow off Kurt for Brody and encourages him to find someone so that they can go on double dates. Seriously, with every episode, Rachel gets even more annoying and self-centered. Later, Rachel has apparently prepared a romantic dinner of turkey burgers for her and Brody, but he’s late. When he finally shows up 45 minutes later, she is ridiculously pissed. He says the train out there was delayed, but she doesn’t care. He should have tried harder to get to her. You have to be fucking kidding me. She rants about how she’s basically accepting whatever scraps she can get in her personal life. She is also being completely irrational. She asks if he would have been on time if she had told him there was $10 million at the apartment, because she thinks she’s worth more than $10 million. I certainly don’t. She continues to throw their food away as Brody tries to calm her down. If I were him, I would have just walked out at this point. But he’s an idiot and says she’s priceless. He says that if it makes her feel better, it was freezing on the train platform. She bitchily asks if she should feel sorry for him, but he says he didn’t care how cold it was or how long it took because he knew the train was taking him to her. Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. He said he would have waited his whole life if it meant he could spend his last day with her. She doesn’t apologize, but just says she could put the food in the microwave. Brody says the food can wait because he just wants to dance with Rachel. Seriously? Rachel is a terrible human being. I will never understand why people like her. So, Brody volunteers to move out to Bushwick and Rachel invites him to just move in with her and Kurt. She has absolutely zero respect for Kurt as a roommate since she doesn’t even consider asking him. Disgusting.

Next week: Everybody gets naked. Seriously.

Advertisements

Pretty Little Liars recap: Misery Loves Company (RIP Spoby)

Previously on PLL: Paige responded to all the shit going on in Rosewood like a normal human being and exhibited post-traumatic stress symptoms. Byron was a total creep and may or may not have killed Ali. Meredith divulged that she knew all about the blackmailing. Toby was super evil and attempted to run Lucas off the fucking road. Hanna cut off all communication with Mona in the most epic way possible.

This is a completely crazy episode. I can’t get over how much happened in these 45 minutes. There are two major developments this week. The first surrounds Spencer and Toby. It’s their anniversary. Unfortunately, Toby has way amped up the evil this episode. He and Mona are planning something, but Toby thinks it’s too soon. Mona says she’s not calling the shots. Apparently, “she” is in charge.

We get a really sweet scene between Toby and Emily, reminding us all that Spencer isn’t the only one who will be devastated at Toby’s evilness. Spencer has plans to make Toby a super romantic dinner in his apartment. She even gets her mom in on the plan. Toby still has to shower at Spencer’s place because we need to see his abs. While Toby is shirtless and wet in Spencer’s room, her mom comes in and talks about this dinner Spencer has to be at tonight. Alas, it’s all a ruse. There’s some adorable banter between Toby and Spencer about a hole she finds in his pocket. This will later be important. Spencer adorably gets everything ready for Toby. She bakes him lasagna in his apartment. She gets something out of a drawer and we get a close-up of Toby’s ID badge to get into Radley.

Aria has the flu and Meredith is the only person able to take care of her, since Aria’s parents suck. Meredith has been a dutiful caretaker, though, bringing her tea and other such things. According to Spencer and Emily, it’s not working because Aria looks terrible. Aria is legit sick, though. The girls are worried about Aria staying at Byron’s house. They volunteer to take her to Ella’s, but apparently Mike is staying in the only spare room. The fuck? Mike can have a different week. Ella should be taking care of her sick child. Aria is apparently starting to trust Meredith. Big mistake, Aria. Meredith gets super creepy in this episode. She hid Aria’s phone from her. She keeps Aria away from Ella. She keeps interrogating Aria about the journal pages, but Aria is passed out. Meredith goes back to school and tells Ella that Aria is doing just fine. Ella said she hadn’t called because she didn’t want to disturb Aria while she’s sleeping. Plus, Meredith has Aria’s phone, so it’s not like Ella will get through to her. Also, Ella is a terrible mother.

Emily and Paige are still adorable. Emily asks if Paige is still considering going to see a professional. She says she has an appointment with someone that afternoon. Hanna interrupts their adorable moment and asks Emily to tail Caleb today because she’s worried he’s going to try to take down Mona. Hanna has her interview and can’t do it. Emily goes to follow Caleb, but just as she’s getting to the point where she sees who he’s meeting, she gets a text from Spencer about the Hanna situation. We, however, get to see that Caleb is meeting Paige! They’re starting an unofficial support group for partners of those who have been terrorized by A. Right now, it’s just them. They decide they need to take down A. There’s no way that will end well. They naively think Mona can’t possibly be watching them. Idiots.

Hanna has a job interview to be assistant to the “hottest designer in Philly.” While getting ready in the morning, she overhears Caleb on the phone with someone. Whoever he is talking to, he says that he won’t let Mona keep torturing Hanna and the girls. Hanna confronts him and he said he was just talking to his mom. Hanna doesn’t buy it and makes Caleb promise he won’t do anything stupid. Hanna gets to Philly and does some last minute primping in a store window. She sees someone who looks like Vivian Darkbloom standing across the street, but the person disappears. When she goes in for her interview, she gets attacked by a bunch of faceless mannequins. It’s creepy as fuck, y’all. The doors all lock and a black hoodie is in the room. She tries to get out, but it’s no use. A bunch of mannequins get shoved at her and as the black hoodie walks out, he drops a key on the floor. The key has the letter A written on the chain. Obvious, much? Perhaps it fell out of the hole in his pocket? Just after, Hanna gets a text from A that says the next time, she’ll be left faceless.

Later, we see a blond woman come into Aria’s room and start rifling through drawers. We, of course, think it’s Meredith, but it’s actually Ali. She grabs a doll out of Aria’s closet and removes the head to put some papers in it. Clearly, this is a hallucination. Or is it? Ali tells Aria that she sees A everywhere she turns and that she’s surprised Spencer hasn’t figured it out yet. She questions Ali about Byron. Ali says she was desperate for the money. Aria goes on to question if Ali is dead and Ali said she isn’t. Ali then tells Aria not to drink the tea Meredith gave her and leaves the room. Next, we see Aria wake up and look over at the doll. She goes to drink the tea and instead throws it on the plant next to her bed. She tries to leave her room, but the door is locked from the outside. She realizes that Ali was right and Meredith is not to be trusted. The next day, Hanna and Emily see Meredith throwing a fit in the pharmacy. The pharmacist is refusing to refill a prescription for clonazepam because it’s a majorly powerful narcotic and she can’t have more without a doctor’s permission. She grabs a handful of antihistamines instead and the clearly incompetent pharmacist rings her up without asking questions. Outside, Hanna and Emily look up clonazepam and realize someone needs to check on Aria stat.

The girls reconvene at Hanna’s place to figure out how Mona set her up. Hanna said she applied for this job way before Mona went crazy. Spencer decides it had to have been one of Mona’s minions. Emily suggests they turn over the “A” key to the police, but Spencer is convinced it will just cause more problems and raise questions. Plus, once the police get involved, the show ends because they could competently handle this investigation. She thinks Mona has a whole “A” army and can still ruin their lives. They decide not to do anything until Aria is feeling better and can be involved in the decision.

Spencer goes back to her house and looks at the key Hanna found. Toby comes over to Spencer’s and looks in the windows like a creeper. He brings her flowers and as she’s getting them in water, Toby finds the key. Spencer tells him it’s for Melissa’s storage unit and quickly shoves it in a drawer. Toby tells Spencer he loves her and I officially hate him so incredibly much. Later, when the storm is getting worse, Spencer calls to find out where Toby is. He tells her he’s on his way home and then asks how the dinner is going. We then see a black hoodie breaking into the Hastings home. He goes straight to the drawer where Spencer put the key and starts to open it. Spencer comes up behind, holding the key, and asks if that’s what he’s looking for. Sure enough, IT’S FUCKING TOBY! The jig is up. She throws aside the key as Toby asks how long she’s known. He’s not even trying to hide the fact he’s totally evil. However, Spencer does get in one great slap as she presents his Radley badge. Her mom comes in and Toby flees. Spencer is absolutely distraught and if you didn’t at least tear up, you are heartless.

Meanwhile, Aria tries to get out of her room, but can’t get past the locked door. She realizes she needs to be armed and breaks a mirror to get a shard of glass. Aria gets back in bed, clutching the glass shard. She falls back asleep and wakes up to Meredith standing over her bed, holding the glass shard. Meredith said she didn’t drug her. She just gave Aria something to help her sleep. Then she had to lock her in room so that Aria wouldn’t do something foolish like tell the police about the journal pages. Aria goes to run away, but Meredith shoves her down and we realize Meredith is completely batshit. Aria runs downstairs, but Meredith has cut off the phone lines. Just as Aria realizes this, Meredith comes up behind and clubs her. Shortly after, Hanna and Emily come over to check on Aria. It should also be noted that it is the creepiest fucking storm ever during all this stuff. The girls find the spare key and go into the dark house. They go upstairs and realize something is horribly wrong, especially when they dial Aria’s phone and it starts ringing directly behind them. It’s Meredith, not even trying to act normal anymore. She tells them Aria went down to the basement a while ago to find flashlights and they should all go check on her. No, don’t go down to the basement with the clearly unhinged woman. However, Hanna and Emily can’t hear me yelling, so they follow Meredith to the basement. They at least have the common sense to look terrified, especially once Meredith locks them in. Emily finds a flashlight and says she thinks there’s someone else down there. Sure enough, Aria is unconscious and lying on the basement floor. Later, Aria comes to and tries to convey just how crazy Meredith is. They decide to try to take down Meredith. Hanna says she has no problem “opening a can of whoop-ass on that woman.” Oh, Hanna. Unless you club her with your shoe, I don’t think you’re much help.

They hear a car pull up and realize that it’s Byron. They start to panic that Byron is in on everything. Aria has been so gaslit that she no longer has any idea what she believes. Byron goes in the house to find Meredith staring creepily into the fire. Completely monotone, Meredith tells Byron that Aria knows everything about the blackmail and him seeing Alison the night she disappeared. Byron starts to look panicked, especially once Meredith says she has proof and Aria’s friends know. Byron starts to come downstairs. Hanna and Emily grab golf clubs because this show is so totally fucked up. Byron assures them he is not to be feared and did not hurt Alison. We get a flashback to Byron trying to reason with Ali. He walks away as Ali continues to threaten him. Then Melissa comes out to make a phone call as Byron walks away with Ali still very much alive.

Byron comes out to tell Aria the police went to Meredith’s apartment and it was completely vacated. Aria is still extremely upset and wants to know why Byron never told her about seeing Ali. He said he didn’t want to upset her. She shows Byron the journal pages that she was hiding in the doll’s head. Apparently, Meredith had them all along and Byron was totally a red herring. Byron wants to know why Aria didn’t just come to him, but Meredith had sufficiently gaslit Aria to the point where she no longer trusted her dad. After Byron volunteers to go give himself up to the police, she throws the journal pages in the fire and says she believes him.

We end the show with Spencer going to Toby’s apartment, completely distraught. She knocks on the door and begs him to tell her everything is a mistake. She tries to open the door, but the locks have been changed. She keeps pleading with him, but Toby isn’t even there. Mona is sitting inside in her hoodie, eating Spencer’s lasagna while Spencer falls apart outside. Mona looks very pleased with herself and also completely evil.

Major questions raised in this episode: Who is “she”? Is there any other friendship more adorable than the one between Caleb and Paige? On a related note, just how badly will Caleb and Paige’s attempt to take down A end? How long did Byron wait to report Meredith to the police? Or did Meredith have a fucking moving crew on hand?

Next week: Spencer is totally falling apart. Aria and Ezra implode. Someone takes a blowtorch to doll versions of the girls. Things stay crazy as fuck.

Pretty Little Liars Recap: Mona-Mania (yep, she’s still awful)

Previously on Pretty Little Liars: Toby tried to run over Lucas with a car, Mona’s doctors released her in the middle of the night and she decided to break the news to Hanna by creepily standing over her as she slept, Aria got locked in a box with Garrett’s dead body, Toby tried to get Spencer to stop obsessing over him (I mean A), Hanna asked Lucas if Mona is blackmailing him, Creepy Desk Clerk Harold is now Creepy Janitor Harold and had Ali’s diary in his creepy basement, Byron got super creepy, and someone tried to burn down a storage shed while Meredith was in it.

The main plot revolves around Byron’s connection to Ali’s disappearance and how Harold is connected to everything. Byron gets creepier with every moment and even Aria looks like she is terrified of him. She is none too happy that Byron thinks she tried to kill Meredith and he tells her that they’ve discovered someone else did it, so the girls are no longer under suspicion. Aria still doesn’t trust him, though. Hanna, Emily, and Aria go over the journal entry they stole from Harold’s lair last episode. However, when Aria goes to get the pages from her secret hiding place (her boot), they’re gone. Byron comes up to see the girls rifling through Aria’s shoe collection and acts super creepy. He mentions how Aria used to hide Halloween candy in her boot so that Mike wouldn’t find it. All the girls are instantly creeped out and figure out he knows about the journal entry. They would be even more freaked if they heard the sinister music to go along with every Byron scene. We also get the first glimpse of Byron’s temper. Aria overhears him fighting with Meredith and goes to see what is happening. She sees Meredith trying to leave as Byron is forcibly restraining her from doing so. He tries to apologize to Meredith, but she runs away. Byron tries to play it off, but Aria is justifiably freaking out. Aria eventually finds Meredith at The Grille and tries to figure out what happened between her and Byron. Apparently, Meredith found Byron going through Aria’s things. The day before, he apparently rifled through Meredith’s purse, thinking it was Aria’s. When Byron left to pick up Mike, Meredith found the journal pages from Ali. Meredith confesses Byron came to her the night that Ali disappeared, thinking she had something to do with the blackmailing. Meredith tells Aria that he left her apartment that night to go find Ali. Later that night, Meredith and Aria discuss whether Byron is actually capable of hurting Ali and what they should do with the information they have. As Byron leaves his office that night, Mona (in a black hoodie) watches him leave and calls someone to update them on Byron’s whereabouts. He’s being so heavily painted with the creeper brush that I don’t think he actually killed Ali. Byron is clearly a red herring. A really fucking creepy red herring, though.

All the girls are obsessed with finding out Byron’s connection to Ali’s disappearance, so Spencer, Emily, and Hanna decide to break into the school basement after dark to look at Creepy Harold’s lair. When they get there, they discover that someone (a black hoodie) is in there with them and all of Harold’s stuff is gone. The only thing left is a blank journal with a note from A. The black hoodies are starting to get super sloppy because that isn’t the only near miss with a hooded figure in this episode.

Mona is still trying to make amends. She tries to play off Harold’s appearance at the school as him stalking her, but the girls certainly don’t believe her. According to Mona, Harold rigged the explosion of the storage shed to try and hurt her. Unfortunately for Mona, the girls are still getting texts from A and they are still convinced Mona is trying to sabotage them. She says that she’s not allowed to have cell phone or computer access, but the girls naturally don’t believe her. Mona says that Jason supervises her Internet usage and the girls confirm that with him.

Lucas is super sketchy and paranoid. Hanna confronts him and says that she knows he was the person in the basement last night, but he says he was just there looking for something. Lucas is totally terrified that Hanna believes Mona and basically acts like he’s about to get killed. He goes on to say that he’s tried to stop her, but it didn’t work. Apparently, Lucas is the one that rigged the explosion. Later, Hanna goes to visit Lucas to find out more information about his relationship with Mona. Lucas says that he’s leaving Rosewood High for good. Mona has apparently been blackmailing Lucas since the second season finale, or the masquerade ball, whichever you prefer. Mona had Lucas running various suspicious errands for her. He said Mona tried to run him over after he told her he was done. We know it was actually Toby, but it’s totally reasonable Lucas would think Mona did it. Mona found out that Lucas was selling test answers to various Rosewood students, so she’s now trying to take him down.

Aria is trying to get information from Ella about Ali’s disappearance and Byron’s whereabouts that night. Ella is clearly the most unobservant person ever because Aria is not acting normal at all when she brings up the subject to Ella. We find that Ella and Byron were at a Hollis party that night. They had quite a bit of wine and Ella slept quite soundly. Maybe sound enough not to realize her husband was sneaking out to kill a teenage girl? There’s also a minor conversation between Ella and Meredith about their new professional relationship and how that will affect Aria. The episode ends with Aria in bed with the flu.

Spencer is running for team captain of the Academic Decathlon. She mentions that the other guy who would be running against her got into some sort of accident and needs physical therapy now. Perhaps he was the guy on the sabotaged bike at the end of last week’s episode? Considering he hit his trachea on the handlebars of his bike due to a faulty front wheel, I’m guessing so. Anyway, Spencer thinks she’s running unopposed, but oh no. Mona is back and she needs extracurriculars to fill her time. Mona has already taken the time to start campaigning and unfortunately, the vote for captain ends in a tie. Apparently, that means they have to go to a quiz-off. After a pep talk from academic rival and potential future boyfriend Andrew, Spencer is ready to take down Mona. Toby is still playing the supportive boyfriend, which will only make it that much more crushing when Spencer finds out the truth. At the quiz-off, Mona is trying to win over the team by getting a get well soon card for the person whose bike she probably sabotaged. Spencer tries not to let it get to her, but it eventually does. She does okay in the first couple rounds and it seems like Mona is choking. Unfortunately, Spencer chokes on the last question and Mona wins the captain position. Mona apparently anticipated this as she has already prepared celebratory cupcakes. Future boyfriend Andrew tells Spencer they can still try to appeal to the faculty advisor, but Spencer says she doesn’t want to win that way. She calls Hanna to come get her from the school. When Hanna gets there, she confronts Mona in front of everyone and says she knows that Mona is still A. It’s pretty much awesome. Spencer spends the rest of the night freaking out about the amount of time she’ll have to spend with Mona in the near future. Hanna gets a text from A about how it was a mistake to cut off Mona. Hanna is convinced that there are more A’s out there. Spencer is sure Mona is playing them all.

Emily and Paige are trying to find time to hang out. Paige is not handling the events of the past couple months very well. She’s exhibiting serious post-traumatic stress symptoms and doesn’t understand why Emily is staying so calm. Emily convinces Paige that the best way to get over their traumatic experience in the woods is to go to a party in the woods. That’s going to end well. Naturally, it doesn’t. They get lost in the woods and Paige starts losing her shit. Emily realizes that her girlfriend is clearly not okay and is having serious panic attacks. Paige admits she’s been feeling like this since Halloween. It certainly doesn’t help when a black hoodie slashes Paige’s tires. Emily sees the hoodie and starts to chase him through the woods. We see that it’s Toby and Emily certainly comes close to seeing him, too. It’s only a matter of time before the girls are clued into Toby’s evilness. Later, they have a discussion about how Emily is still scared of all the shit happening to them, but she’s more angry than anything. Emily encourages Paige to get help for her anxiety.

The ending vignette is of a black hoodie passing a wooden sign for a campground as a train whistles in the distance. They bury the masks from the masquerade ball under some leaves and then leave.

Quote of the week: “It’s certainly calculating, but I wouldn’t call that trig.” – Aria to Mona about her posting an apology video when she was only supposed to have computer access for homework

Major questions raised this week: How much wine does Ella need to not hear her husband leave the house? How much has Lucas been involved with A? Was it actually Toby who hit Hanna with the car way back when, or does every member of Team A need to be prepared to potentially commit vehicular manslaughter?

Next week: The gig is up for Toby. Aria apparently sees Ali. Hanna gets trapped somewhere with some super creepy mannequins. Hanna also makes Caleb promise her that he won’t do anything stupid.

Pretty Little Liars Recap: She’s Better Now (but she’s probably not)

It’s time for the midseason premiere! Also known as the first episode I’ve ever gotten to watch live. It’s so exciting. Sorry for the delay in getting this up. Life happened. The recap for Mona-Mania should be up shortly after this one.

Previously on Pretty Little Liars: The girls went to the Bates Motel…er, the Lost Woods Resort in hopes of finding out about Vivian Darkbloom, but Creepy Desk Clerk Harold said the hotel was where people go not to be found. Aria found out about Ezra’s long lost child with Alex Mack and decided not to tell Ezra. Garrett found Spencer on the creepiest train ever and said he didn’t kill Ali, but someone definitely killed Garrett and then put him in a box with the kidnapped Aria. Homewrecker Meredith is coming to teach at Rosewood. Finally, in a scene that broke everyone’s heart, Toby was revealed as the latest member of Team A.

The major development in this episode is that Mona is back at Rosewood Day. She decides to break the news to Hanna by sneaking into her room and watching her sleep, so her judgment still doesn’t appear that great. Although Hanna agrees to support Mona at school, the other three girls aren’t quite convinced Mona doesn’t still want to ruin their lives. Considering the last time some of them saw her she was creepily speaking in code to dolls, they’re probably justified in that. Spencer wants to use Mona for information about Garrett and the rest of the NAT Club, but Aria doesn’t see why Mona should be trusted. Adding to the reasons to distrust Mona is the fact that she’s buddying up to Jason. Caleb is still a pro hacker and managed to get a transcript of a meeting between the school and Mona’s parents. Once the girls find out Mona was lying about being forced to come back to Rosewood and realize she actually begged to do so, they trust her even less.

Things get worse for Mona at school when someone pins a cow brain to the corkboard on the inside of her locker with a steak knife. It also doesn’t help that she then walks the cow brain down the hallway to the trashcan and dumps it before turning around with the knife still facing outwards. It’s a lot easier to convince people you aren’t homicidal when don’t have a knife raised in a motion like you want to stab them. It’s even worse when literally everyone has their camera phone out recording the whole incident. Emily and Aria worry they’re going to be blamed for the cow brain and kind of feel sorry for her, but Spencer has no sympathy.

Mona decides to appeal to the sympathy of the student body. She posts a video online detailing her issues with bullying and what it was like growing up. She tries to convince her peers that she’s all better. Unfortunately, most of the school seems to buy this. Granted, most of the school has not been stalked and tortured by Mona, so they’re probably a little more easily forgiving.

Creepy Desk Clerk Harold is apparently Rosewood Day’s latest janitorial hire. Emily and Hanna decide to go down to the school’s creepy basement in order to find Harold. They find out that he has a whole bunch of Mona’s stuff in his office and are sufficiently creeped out by that. At the school-sponsored charity run, things get super dramatic. The girls break into Creepy Harold’s office and find Ali’s diary on his desk. In it, they find entries referring to Byron and the circumstances surrounding Ali blackmailing him. They hear someone coming and Aria rips out the pages from Ali’s diary. They narrowly avoid being killed by Harold and his rusty bolt cutters when Toby seemingly comes to their rescue, but you know he was probably up to something nefarious. Sure enough, the storage shed then bursts into flames. Unfortunately for the girls, especially Aria, Meredith was inside the shed when it went up in flames. Although she’s okay, Byron is pretty sure Aria and her friends had something to do with getting Meredith to the shed when it was supposed to catch on fire. Apparently, someone left a note for Meredith on her clipboard that sent her to the storage shed. Thus, Aria is convinced A set them up.

Now for the girls’ individual storylines.

Emily’s dad is back in town and has cracked down on her security. Emily doesn’t take the new security features very well and resists them at every turn. Considering Emily was nearly killed in a lighthouse a couple months earlier, her parents are probably completely justified in keeping her under lock and key. They might be going a bit overkill by calling her every hour at school, but I can understand it. Emily switches her phone with her dad’s so that she can shut off the house alarm and sneak up to the school to spy on Creepy Harold during the race. It does lead to a conversation between Daddy Fields and Emily about why she won’t let him in, but it’s pretty much one-sided. Emily’s not big on communication at this point.

Aria doesn’t want to believe that her dad is a total skeevy creeper who potentially killed her best friend. At the beginning of the episode, Spencer is trying to convince her that Byron is super suspicious, but Aria is having none of that. After all, it is hard to think that your dad is an adulterous murderer, so I understand why she has some problems dealing with it. As the episode progresses, however, Byron gets creepier every second. Aria starts to question Byron about his thoughts on Ali. By the end of the episode, Byron is just standing outside Aria’s bedroom door, listening to her conversations. Aria also can’t quite deal with the fact that Meredith is now her history teacher. Seriously, that’s just awkward. It makes things worse when Meredith takes away Aria’s phone while she’s in the middle of a text about how horrible Meredith is. She’s also all wrapped up with guilt over not telling Ezra he has a kindergarten-aged son, but I really don’t care about that plot development. It’s the first time I have ever legitimately not cared about the Ezria relationship. It’s just such an unnecessary twist.

Spencer is all about the idea that Byron knows something about Ali. However, she does not suspect that Toby is a member of Team A and is still adorably in love with him. That reveal is going to be heartbreaking, especially since Toby is continuing to get in Spencer’s pants. Spencer keeps asking Toby about why Jenna switched schools and what he thinks happened to Garrett. She is also really concerned about the budding friendship between Mona and Jason. Spencer tries to warn Jason that Mona is cray cray, but he wants to judge for himself. By the end of the episode, he seems like he might believe Spencer, but he then cuddles up to Mona once Spencer leaves his house. Jason also has some sort of mysterious wound on his side.

Hanna’s grandma is staying with her for some reason, but she is one of those adorably wacky grandmothers who shares convoluted stories of troubled family members and uses really folksy language. Her and Caleb are no longer hiding their relationship, since they realized their covert skills needed some work. Lucas is being super shady about things. He comes to Hanna to give her the remainder of the money he owes Caleb and is super sketchy about his leg injury, which we later learn came from Toby trying to run him down with a SUV while Lucas was skateboarding at night.

Best quote of the night: “If Mona sneaks into my house after midnight, I’m sleeping with a crowbar under my pillow.” – Aria

Most hilarious scene: Hanna’s grandma hijacks the microphone at the run to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, just because. To cut her off before she starts the second verse, the principal just shoots the starting gun.

Let’s end with the new questions that arise from this episode. Why did Toby try to run over Lucas with a SUV in the middle of the night? Why did Mona weirdly sniff Lucas after the cow brain incident? Have Lucas’ parents just adopted Caleb at this point? How does Team A have so much disposable income? Why does Emily climb out her bedroom window even though her house is empty and the alarm is disabled? When did Jason and Mona become BFFs? Is Jason involved with A? Why did the black hoodie person sabotage that random kid’s bike?

Next week: Hanna confronts Mona about whether she is still A. Byron gets creepier. Paige and Emily go through the woods with a flashlight.

 

Liveblog: 2013 Golden Globes

7:00 Let’s get this party started! Tina Fey and Amy Poehler look amazing. Their relationship is precious. This monologue is fantastic. See, this is what happens when you have hosts who are phenomenal comediennes and talented writers. If you get a chance, look it up on YouTube and enjoy.

7:08 Bradley Cooper and Kate Hudson present Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. They get straight to it and don’t mess around with any banter. The award goes to Christoph Waltz. He’s so sincere and adorable. Apparently, the Waltz/Tarantino pairing equals awards show gold.

7:11 Dennis Quaid and Kerry Washington come out to present Best Supporting Actress for Television. The Globe goes to Maggie Smith for Downton Abbey. McGonagall!!!!! Sadly, she’s not there.

7:16 Eva Longoria and Don Cheadle come out for the Mr. & Miss Golden Globes introduction. Clint Eastwood’s daughter and Michael J. Fox’s son are doing it this year. Fox’s son is the spitting image of his dad. Longoria & Cheadle then present Best Miniseries or TV Movie to “Game Change,” shocking no one. Let’s talk about Eva Longoria’s dress for just a moment. The slit is so far up her leg that it is almost going up the curve of her ass. Like if she moves her legs too far apart, we’re about to see all up in her business.

7:20 Cheadle and Longoria stick around for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. Amy Poehler is in the audience as a joke nominee. Just a subtle joke, but hilarious. Julianne Moore wins for “Game Change” and comes out from backstage to get the award. “Game Change” is going to clean up tonight. Love it.

7:23 Catherine Zeta-Jones comes out to introduce “Les Miserables.” Her dress is absolutely beautiful. A couple clips from the film and it’s phenomenal, of course.

7:28 Tina Fey and Amy Poehler introduce the HFPA president. They tell us that the HFPA picks their president through a Hunger Games-esque process and then play “I Will Survive” as she comes out on stage. Y’all, she looks exactly like Liza Minnelli from the side. She ends her speech by asking Bradley Cooper to call her. Hilarious.

7:30 Rosario Dawson shows the clip package for “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” One of the most overrated films, but I love the actors in it.

7:32 Salma Hayek and Paul Rudd come out to present Best Actor in a TV Drama. Damien Lewis wins, of course, because this is still the year of “Homeland.” He starts talking in his British accent. Can he just keep talking, pretty please? Yum. He ends the speech by dedicating it to his mom and he is precious.

7:34 Hayek and Rudd stick around for the Best TV Series – Drama announcement. They pause for an awkward moment. I’m guessing the teleprompter wasn’t working. Shocking absolutely no one, “Homeland” continues its streak of awards. The HFPA loves new, flashy things. They might as well go ahead and hand Claire Danes her award while she’s on stage.

7:42 John Goodman comes out to present the clip package for “Argo.” Onstage with him is the real-life Tony Mendez, also known as the man Ben Affleck played.

7:44 Jennifer Lopez comes out in one of the most hideous dresses of the night. Seriously, J. Lo, just be a nudist if you want to. We get it. Your body is fantastic. Your dress looks like it’s just a bunch of pasties all over your body. Her and Jason Statham present the award for Best Original Score to “Life of Pi.” Cassie points out that Mycahel Danna (the composer) looks exactly like Bill Nye.

7:47 Lopez and Statham stick around to present Best Original Song. In another non-surprise, Adele wins for “Skyfall.” Taylor Swift looks pissed she lost. Adele acts shocked. Apparently, she’s the only one who thought she wouldn’t win. She is apparently there with one of her friends who is also a new mom. She said in their speech they’ve been “pissing themselves laughing all night.” Can Adele win all the awards? I love her speeches.

7:54 Jessica Alba and Kiefer Sutherland come out to present Best Actor in a TV Miniseries or Movie. It’s Tina Fey’s turn to do the fake nominee thing. Just a subtle joke, but done fantastically. Kevin Costner wins for “Hatfields & McCoys.” I really wanted Benedict Cumberbatch for “Sherlock,” but he’ll probably get his after the last season of “Sherlock.” Costner gives what almost sounds like a goodbye speech to acting, or life. Seriously, does he have like a terminal illness or something? Or is he going to just stick to directing from now on?

7:58 Bill Clinton comes out and the crowd loses its shit. Lena Dunham’s reaction is particularly hilarious. Clinton introduces the clip package for “Lincoln.” His will clearly be the longest introduction.

8:00 Amy Poehler comes out and gushes over “Hillary Clinton’s husband.” Tina Fey comes up in her fake nominee costume to freak out about “Bill Rodham Clinton.” They introduce Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, who are also freaking out over Clinton or being on the stage. They present Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical and heavily imply they have no idea who any of the nominees are. “Judi Dench! Where did she come from?” Tommy Lee Jones does not look amused by this introduction, though everyone else is. Jennifer Lawrence wins for “Silver Linings Playbook.” She thanks Harvey for killing whoever he had to kill for getting her on that stage tonight. She thanks her dad and brothers. She better get used to giving these speeches.

8:12 John Krasinski and the adorably pregnant Kristen Bell come out to introduce Best Supporting Actor on TV. The Globe goes to Ed Harris for “Game Change,” continuing its streak. He’s not there, so we zip right on to Jamie Foxx presenting the clip package for “Django Unchained.”

8:14 Jonah Hill and Megan Fox come out to present Best Supporting Actress in a Movie. They have a little banter about Jonah not calling her back. It pretty much falls flat, so they move on quickly. Anne Hathaway wins for “Les Miserables,” once again shocking no one. She starts her speech by quoting Tina Fey. “Blerg.” So much love. She’s come such a long way since “The Princess Diaries.” She says she’ll use her award as a blunt object against self-doubt. She thanks Sally Field in particular for being such an inspiration. She has this speech thing down, which is good because she better get used to it. She’ll be doing it again on February 24th.

8:23 Amanda Seyfried and Robert Pattinson come out to present Best Screenplay. The winner is Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.” Not totally surprising. I think Tarantino will probably win the Oscar. He thanks his actors for having everything go right and he thanks his friends for letting him bounce ideas off them. He thanks them for the “damn surprise.” Tarantino grows on me every time I see him.

8:25 Jeremy Irons comes out to present the clip package for “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” I’m so glad they’re showing this clip because I can guarantee no one there saw this film. “Salmon Fishing” is this year’s “The Tourist.”

8:27 Lucy Liu and Debra Messing come out to present Best TV Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Their dresses are huge. So help me if Alec Bladwin wins again. Don Cheadle wins for “House of Lies.” I’m not a huge fan of the show, but I have so much love for Don Cheadle. He’s so incredibly down-to-earth and I just adore him.

8:33 Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger come out to present Best Foreign Film because English is a foreign language to both of them. The winner is “Amour,” shocking no one. Nice touch that an Austrian got to give the award to a fellow countryman, though, which Michael Haneke points out.

8:36 Nathan Fillion and Lea Michele come out to present Best Actress in a TV Drama. I bet Lea Michele thought her dress would have the highest slit tonight, but it looks almost Amish compared to Eva Longoria. Shocking absolutely no one, once again, Claire Danes wins for “Homeland.” Fun fact: Danes is apparently 4 for 4 with Golden Globe wins.

8:44 Sacha Baron Cohen comes out, drink in hand. Anne Hathaway is apparently just now getting back to her seat. It seems like Sacha Baron Cohen is trying to take over for Ricky Gervais in the insult category. Totally inappropriate introduction to the Best Animated Film category, considering he only talked about the Les Miserables cast. Ugh. Just ugh. Best Animated Feature goes to “Brave.” I’m pretty shocked. “Frankenweenie” has been getting a lot of these awards, while “Brave” has been largely shut out. I’m not mad, though. Loved this movie so much. One of my favorite Pixars yet.

8:48 Liev Schreiber comes out to introduce the “Life of Pi” clip package. He mentions how people thought the story was unfilmable, which I pretty much had agreed with.

8:50 Jason Bateman carries out Aziz Ansari to introduce Best Actress in a TV Comedy or Musical. Aziz acts like he’s completely high and says the “Downton” cast has some great pot backstage. I love Aziz, but this isn’t necessarily going over very well. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are acting like they’ve been out in the audience. Fey is cuddled up with J. Lo and Poehler is sitting on George Clooney’s lap. Lena Dunham wins for “Girls,” further proving that the Globes love everything new and shiny. She seems like she’s having a lot of trouble walking up to the stage, but she’s absolutely precious. She typed out her speech and it’s just so damn earnest.

8:58 Tina and Amy are back, drinks in hand. They act like they’re completely sloshed, now that they’ve lost their category. Glenn Close acts like she’s drunk…or having a seizure. Tina tells Taylor Swift to stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son. They go on to introduce Robert Downey, Jr. who presents the Cecil B. DeMille Award to Jodie Foster. In his introduction, he says the award says as much about the presenter as it does the recipient. Oh, RDJ. I absolutely adore you. Apparently, Jodie Foster said in a 1974 interview that she wanted a hamster, so RDJ and Mel Gibson teamed up to give her her pick of hamsters. Some of the jokes are falling a little flat, but RDJ is just so funny. And now for the retrospective of Jodie Foster’s work.

9:05 Jodie Foster comes up to accept her award. She jokes about how she’s fifty. I think it’s an SNL reference, but I don’t really get it. She looks great, but the straps on her dress look like duct tape. It’s kind of a bizarre speech, but I really enjoy it. She’s had such an amazing career and talks about her desire for privacy in her personal life. A little preachy, but she does it very eloquently. Her sons are absolutely precious and they keep doing close-ups on them. Seven minutes later and we go to commercial. I’m glad they always let the Cecil B. DeMille winner go on and really get their moment, but it does tend to drag. Her speech was great, though, so it wasn’t as bad as some years.

9:17 Halle Berry comes out to present Best Director. Her dress is another major miss. She’s talking a bit frantically, so I bet they’re starting to run behind. There’s no messing around here. Ben Affleck wins for “Argo.” He looks shocked and the crowd gives him a standing ovation. He’s running out of time. Just when I think he’s about to forget to thank Jennifer, he pulls through.

9:20 Josh Brolin comes out to introduce the clip package for “Moonrise Kingdom.”

9:21 Tina and Amy are back to introduce Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. Amy still has her drink. They’ve got some great banter that is basically implying that it’s time for Jay to move on and let someone else have a shot. Agreed. They present Best TV Comedy or Musical to “Girls,” continuing the new and shiny trend of the night. Lena seriously can’t walk in those shoes and dress. She looks great, but she’s struggling. Lena gets up there and starts shrieking. This is so endearing. I’m seriously going to have to start watching this show, apparently. That was so precious. I love when people are genuinely excited about winning.

9:29 Christian Bale comes out to introduce the clip package for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

9:31 Jennifer Garner comes out to introduce Best Actor in a Movie Comedy or Musical and quickly thanks Grant Heslov and George Clooney because Ben Affleck forgot to do so when accepting his award. She goes on to present the award to Hugh Jackman for “Les Miserables.” Oh, Hugh. If it weren’t for Daniel Day-Lewis, you would totally be getting an Oscar this year. Apparently, Hugh is just getting over the flu. I guess someone stole the wheels off Hugh’s bike while he was auditioning for “Les Mis,” but Hugh says they’re all good now. Hugh goes on to thank his wife for being the most wonderful woman in the world and asks that she come up on stage later if he forgets to thank anyone.

9:38 Jeremy Renner comes out to introduce the clip package for “Zero Dark Thirty.” They’re so not messing around anymore. They just are getting straight to the point and moving this thing along.

9:40 Dustin Hoffman comes out to introduce Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. He makes a quick reference to his film “Quartet” and moves on. The question of the night: Will it be “Les Mis” or “Silver Linings?” “Les Miserables” pulls off the win and the cast and crew head to the stage. Anne Hathaway apparently forgot to thank her manager and rushes to the microphone to quickly thank her. The producer then goes on to give a very short speech before they cut him off.

9:47 Tina and Amy introduce a presenter who makes “Young George Clooney” look like garbage. It’s “Middle Aged George Clooney.” He quickly congratulates Ben Affleck and goes on to present Best Actress in a Drama to Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s official. The Best Actress Oscar race is pretty much just Chastain and Lawrence at this point. Sorry to the other three nominees. They’re just filling out the category. Chastain gives such an endearing speech. I kind of adore her. She thanks powerful and fearless women, which makes me love her.

9:50 George Clooney goes on to present Best Actor in a Drama since Meryl Streep is under the weather. In another non-surprise, Daniel Day-Lewis wins for “Lincoln.” Just go ahead and hand him the Oscar now. Unless we find out he likes to punch kittens in his spare time, he’s got this sewn up. He is kind of surprisingly funny and gives a really great acceptance speech.

9:57 Last award of the night. Julia Roberts comes out to present Best Drama. And the winner is…”Argo.” Not surprised it won with the HFPA. It’s a little flashier than the other nominees. It’s going to have a much tougher road with the Oscars, though. Grant Heslov accepts the award and gives a great speech. So happy to see this win. I really loved this film.

10:00 Tina and Amy quickly wrap up. They wish us good night and say they’re going home with Jodie Foster. Really solid show this year. Much better than the Gervais years. I vote Tina and Amy host all the shows now.

Good night, everyone. See you again for the Oscars liveblog on February 24th. There will of course be other posts between now and then, though.

Film Review: Les Miserables

Considering the title of the movie is essentially “The Miserable Ones,” there was no way I was going into the film expecting a light-hearted romp through the streets of Paris. I have never seen any version of this musical before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would be sad and there was a lot of singing. Beyond that, I basically went in blind.

The story spans several decades in post-revolution France. Everything centers on Jean Valjean (the phenomenal Hugh Jackman), a prisoner who broke his parole and went on the lam with a new identity. Over the years, he is essentially stalked by Javert (the horribly miscast Russell Crowe), a general who supervised Valjean during his imprisonment. Literally every time Valjean turns around, Javert seems to be there. Even 30 years later, Javert is still pissed that Valjean got away. And seriously, his crime was stealing a loaf of bread. By the end of the movie, I wanted to just give Javert a loaf of bread so he would get the hell over it. Anywho, at one point, Valjean crosses paths with the horribly tragic Fantine (future Oscar winner Anne Hathaway), who has had to turn to prostitution in order to support her daughter Cosette. Valjean ends up taking in Cosette (played as a child by Isabelle Allen and as an adult by Amanda Seyfried), who has basically been a child slave to innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). Valjean and Cosette basically go into hiding and live their lives for several years. Cosette meets Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who falls horribly in love with her, although the Thenardier’s daughter Eponine (played as a child by Natalya Wallace and as an adult by Samantha Barks) is also in love with Marius. Valjean discovers that Marius is in love with Cosette and eventually comes around to the idea of them being together after seeing Marius in action with the other revolutionaries, including the adorable little boy Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone). Just about everyone meets a tragic end.

The cast of the film is pretty much phenomenal. Jackman is an amazing singer and makes a perfect Valjean. Hathaway is beautiful as Fantine and deserves the Oscar for her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” alone. She is certainly going to be the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner in February. Redmayne does great with the role of Marius and we are going to see a lot more of him in the future. Cohen and Carter provide much-needed comic relief as the Thenardiers, and I’ve discovered that I greatly enjoy Cohen when he is not writing his own material. Seyfried and Barks don’t have a ton of material, but both do fantastic with what they have. Finally, the children are absolutely fantastic. In particular, Huttlestone as Gavroche is precious and I just wanted to hug him. The major misstep was casting Crowe as Javert. He is not nearly a strong enough singer to handle the role. Considering the dialogue is 95% song, Crowe was just not up to the challenge of this role.

The other major problem was having Tom Hooper direct the film. I hated so many of his directorial choices. He used close-up shots for a good 75% of the film. Close-ups can be very effective when used sparingly. During really moving ballads or tense moments, the close-ups could have been very striking. The problem is that when everything is in close-up, the actors can’t play off each other as well. Everything is in really soft focus as well, which got annoying. The film is 2 hours and 38 minutes long, so it already dragged at times and those directorial choices kept pulling me out of the movie.

The standout moments of the film are definitely Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” and Barks’ rendition of “On My Own.” There’s a reason those are the two most well-known songs from the stage musical. It’s because they’re heartbreakingly gorgeous. The art direction and costuming is fantastic. I just wish we had seen more of it than the constant close-up shots allowed. There is no doubt this is going to be nominated for Best Picture, and rightfully so. It’s a very solid adaptation of the stage musical and certainly one of the top films made this year. However, it is not going to be the winner.

Film & Book reviews: Struck by Lightning

Basically, everyone who has ever met me knows I’m a touch obsessed with television. I go through phases with various television shows. Currently, one of my biggest obsessions is “Glee.” Once again, not a shock to anyone who reads this blog or has ever talked to me in real life. There are two actors on the show who I absolutely adore: Chris Colfer and Darren Criss. They are two of the most talented young people currently working in Hollywood.

Chris Colfer is 22 years old. He has won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on “Glee.” His debut children’s novel “The Land of Stories” was a New York Times bestseller. He recently wrote and starred in his first feature film “Struck by Lightning,” which he then turned into a novel. Seriously. He’s three months younger than me and I feel like the biggest slacker in the world when I look at his list of accomplishments.

The basic plot of the story follows a high school senior named Carson Phillips (Colfer). His sole mission in life is to get out of his hometown of Clover. He dreams of attending Northwestern University and eventually becoming the editor of the New Yorker. Unfortunately, he has to put up with the general close-mindedness so commonly used in portrayals of small towns. All Carson wants is to be a writer. He is the editor of his school’s newspaper. The other members of his staff don’t care about getting the paper published. The one exception to this might be Malerie (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect), who really tries but just doesn’t quite get it. When he finds out that just being editor of a school newspaper isn’t enough to impress Northwestern, his guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey, The Office) gives him the idea to start a literary magazine.

The literary magazine is a great idea, but the problem is that it can’t just feature Carson’s work. He needs to have submissions from other students. Carson doesn’t necessarily get along with his classmates…or people in general. He tries to get submissions by just asking for them, but pretty much insults them in the process. He gets a submission box full of garbage, literally. After catching two boys making out in the bathroom, he essentially blackmails them into writing for the magazine. Carson realizes that there are surely more people with secrets at the school and picks out a select few to extort. His targets include the cheerleading captain, football coach, class president, and a few other very popular students.

The quest to get the literary magazine up and running is pretty much the sole plot of the novel. Colfer writes it as a series of journal entries documenting the school year, so everything is from Carson’s point of view. The novel and the film are almost exactly the same, but there are a couple noticeable differences.

The novel spends some time going into the interactions between Carson and the people he’s blackmailing. Carson tries to inspire them in his own way by getting them to write. He has a couple meaningful conversations with these students. However, in the film, we only see the conversation between Carson and cheerleading captain Claire Matthews (Sarah Hyland, Modern Family).

The film also develops the relationship between Carson and his mother Sheryl (Allison Janney, The West Wing) a lot more than in the book. In general, Sheryl is far more developed in the film. She is an extremely compelling character, mostly because Janney is such an amazing actress. After divorcing her husband Neal (Dermot Mulroney), she spirals out of control and becomes a non-functioning alcoholic. She is addicted to basically every prescription drug. She is hateful towards Carson at every turn and takes every opportunity to remind him that dreams don’t come true. Colfer and Janney were fantastic in their scenes together and their relationship was the most interesting of both the film and book. Neal’s new fiancee April (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men) is also a character that is hardly mentioned in the novel, yet plays a much bigger role in the film. Janney and Hendricks play off each other so well and their scenes together are beyond fantastic. They basically represent the before and after of what a stressful relationship can do to a person.

The final piece of the puzzle is the relationship between Carson and his senile grandmother (Polly Bergen, The Caretakers). Bergen doesn’t have a huge role, but every scene she shares with Colfer is memorable. The film really needed this relationship. Carson is incredibly sarcastic with everyone else and would easily come across as an acerbic asshole without this relationship.

The balance between the sarcastic wit and the more sentimental moments make the novel and film magical. I was bawling by the end of the film. The major shortfall of the film is that it is so short. At only 84 minutes, it would have benefitted from maybe another 10 minutes to better flesh out Carson’s relationships with the other students in his school. Currently, the film is only available on demand or iTunes. It will be released in a small number of theaters January 11 and will hopefully be in wide release by the end of the month. The film is directed by Brian Dannelly, who also directed Saved!, another fantastic film about high school.