Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rated D - Les Miserables

I don’t know about you, but I was complete-Les Miz-erable most of the movie… a-thank you.

Welcome Back to Rated D!

This week we put on our musical theater pants, realized those aren’t real things, put on real pants and went to see the highly-anticipated movie "Les Miserable".  SPOILER ALERT:  The saintly ex-convict Jean Valjean is pursued by the unyielding Inspector Javert during the Student Revolution in France in the 1830s.

The musical is back!” Hugh Jackman proudly declared while hosting The 2009 Academy Awards and he was right to do so.  In recent years Hollywood has been pouring millions into adapting popular musicals from the stage to the screen.  Some with success, some with suck.  Now… I love theatre, I love movies, and I think “Les Miserables” is a great musical, alas, this one Les Misa-robbed me of a good time.  Nailed it!

To sum up, the bitter, jaded Jean Valjean, played by Tony Award winner Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, X-Men), reinvents himself after being unfairly jailed for 19 years, but in doing so breaks his parole.  He is then doggedly pursued by the obstinate Inspector Javert, played by the Pub Band singer Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, Virtuousity), who will stop at nothing to prove Valjean is a dangerous criminal who needs to be punished.  After becoming rich and successful, he accidentally destroys the life of a struggling single mother, played by Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs, Alice in Wonderland) and agrees to rescue and raise her daughter, but still must flee from the law.  All paths eventually intersect years later amidst the backdrop of the “June Rebellion”, an antimonarchist revolt in Paris comprised of mostly students.  Light musical theater fluff, right?

Just to clarify, my dislike doesn’t stem from a sanctimonious ‘stage vs. screen’ or ‘purism of the show’ place.  In fact, even if it is almost to a fault, the fidelity to the story and songs is impressive.  Also, I applaud the unconventional device of having the actors not only do their own singing, but also perform it live (as opposed to prerecorded lip-syncing).  But still, these cool efforts didn’t outweigh my disappointment. 

Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) employs a unique, technique in which he decides to shove the camera in the actors’ faces and track them, often in one continuous shot, for entire songs.   From some, I’ve heard “It’s almost like live theatre!”, but to me I felt like it put the scenes in a poor limbo: not as good as seeing it live is, and not as good as seeing it cinematically should’ve been.  I’m the first to admit that acting in live theater, especially musicals, is often over the top and it’s not an issue, but most of the time in movies, especially one like this that is trying to be “real, gritty, and true”… er… (as much as you can make a virtual opera that is)… the over the top facial expressions and extreme-melodrama doesn’t work.  This is especially true when you feel like you could reach out and slap the giant face taking up half of the screen.  And I guess, now is as good ‘a time as any to go “On My Own” to say “I’ve Heard the People Sing” and I honestly don’t know what all the excitement is about Anne Hathaway.  Decent voice?  Sure!  Beautiful?  Yes!  Talented?  Of course!  But no offense to her (because I know she reads my Rated D reviews regularly), but I just saw the same level of over-exaggerated emotion that everyone else had already or would apply later on in the film… only then some....  What I’m saying is that when a car’s maximum speed is 60, if you say it goes 0 to 60 in 2 seconds flat, that’s impressive.  But if I say a car can go to 0 to 60 in 2 seconds and then stay there… like… all the time!!!... that’s a little less impressive.  I’ll leave it at that.  I like her… I do!!!

Now… sometimes you just have to accept the fact that you can be really good at some things and not so great at others.  If Tom Brady played for the Red Sox, he would probably suck.  Therefore, just because Russell Crowe is a great actor, it does not mean he should be in musicals.  Though he never goes off key, there’s just nothing going on that is interesting and the more his songs build to passionate solos that simply rest in the back of his throat while he walks back and forth on rooftops, it only makes those around him look even further over the top and him further out of place.

It’s not all bad.  Sometimes Hooper nails the shot and the costumes and sets and everything looks great.  Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Powder Blue) surprises with a pleasant voice and powerful emotion in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, Samantha Barks belts a solid rendition of “On My Own” and Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Sweeney Todd) and Sascha Baron Cohen (Bruno, Hugo) as scumbag innkeepers provide some fun antics and comic relief (even if it does wear thin by the end of their first song).

So as you’ve gathered, this review is about as long as “Les Miz” (at 157 minutes… if you were wondering…), and I was not its biggest fan, but I’m glad that so many others are still filing into movie theaters to watch a three hour musicals and not just dorky theater people like me.

D's Recommendation – 2.5 out of 5 – Hey, it was still better than Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

"Musicall It Quits!"
Musicals that Failed as Movies

1.  Nine (2009) – Rob Marshall tried to get lightning to strike twice after he brought us “Chicago”…. but alas his separation of music and plot didn’t fly in this one.  One Thing Worked: Fergie’s “Be Italian” number.  Most of the songs in the musical are not the catchiest, but this one does have a hook that does the trick.  And yes, I do mean Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.

2.  The Producers (2005) – It’s a flop movie-musical based on a musical which was based on a movie about putting on a flop musical.  Though the songs are clever and everybody gives it there all, that same problem of the extravagance of live theater doesn’t translate well to film.  One Thing Worked:  Springtime for Hitler”, the musical that they put on is hilarious.

3.  Rock of Ages (2011) – It’s a juke-box musical that uses popular 80s rock songs, mashing them up and putting them into context.  Most of the musical numbers aren’t nearly as fun as you want them to be and the writing in between isn’t any better.  One Thing Worked:  Tom Cruise gives a surprisingly good vocal performance as Rock God Stacey Jaxx.

4.  Mamma Mia! (2008) – I didn’t like this one when I saw it live, I didn’t like it on film.  It’s a pop-musical told using the songs of ABBA starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried as mother and daughter… and best friends.  Yeah, I don’t think I was the target audience for this one.  One Thing Worked:  I’m not quite sure what, but it is the highest grossing musical film worldwide… so something must’ve worked…   

5.  Phantom of the Opera (2004) – It just seemed like this shouldn’t have been so boring and dull to watch.  Emmy Russom voice is pretty, but boring, Gerard Butler, as the Phantom, is intense, but just not right for the part, and the rest of the movie is forgettable.  One Thing Worked:  Mrs. Gorilla says that the dancing was beautiful!

Rated DVD -
Keeping with the negative tone of this Rated D, I figured I’d throw this one in for good measure… or bad measure for that matter.  You would think… eh… you know where this is going.

Long story short, I wasn’t happy about the dollar I spent or the two hours I wasted.

Next Time on Rated D...
The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey – You guessed it!

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