Friday, January 18, 2013

Did you hear the people sing?

It’s a rare occasion nowadays that I go to the movies (flash back to my early 20s when this blog was a happening place for movie and concert reviews, and humorous anecdotes staring my twenty-something friends). However, having spent Christmas away from Bradley this year, I had time to see not one, but two new films. Here comes movie review #1.

Of course, I had to see Les Miserables. Not only am I a musical junkie (Sorry, Eric!), but the movie had plenty of star power, and I was intrigued at the way Les Mis was filmed. In case you didn’t know, the actors sang the parts live, with an accompanist following them, heard by the actors only through an ear bud, and then the orchestral accompaniment was added to the vocal tracks later. I would imagine that was maddening difficult for the conductor and musicians who had to follow the actor’s whims of subtle tempo changes throughout.

So Christmas Day came, and I was all set to see Les Mis. Just as we were ready to leave, I checked to make sure it wasn’t sold out. It was - along with every other showing of the movie that day at every nearby theater. Turns out, everybody and their mother goes to the movies on Christmas Day. Who knew? Immediately, I secured tickets for the next day, and thus I finally settled into my seat the day after Christmas, ready to hate Anne Hathaway.

I’ve been annoyed at the way the previews and movie posters have made her out to be this huge part of the film, when I and anyone who has seen the musical knows that Fontine isn’t around for very long, so I couldn’t understand why she was being billed seemingly as the star of the show.  I tried to dislike Anne Hathaway for this very reason, but alas, I could not. Her performance, small in part, but grand in delivery was one of the highlights of the film.  Plus, let's face it.  Anyone who makes themselves look ugly and cut their hair for a role is practically guaranteed an Oscar.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was also outstanding, and the benefit to film versus theater in this case is that the audience gets to see in detail the physical aging transformation of Jean Valjean up close and personal.  Due to the scoring of the music, Jackman was able to take his time and give real feeling behind the lyrics, staying true to the music, but also allowing for the rubato that the circumstances needed.  He's a strong contender for the Best Actor Oscar.

Who was that guy who played Marius? Eddie Redmayne is his name.  I'm not usually one for blondes, but he was a cutie patootie, even though his vibrato was visible by his shaking throat.  Redmayne was well cast for this part, and his heartfelt rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was moving to the point where I understood this song in a way I never had before.  (That’s the song Marius sings after he survives the battle and goes back to the barricade ruins, for those who aren’t as familiar with the musical) which brings me to the best/worst song of the fim:

Favorite song – Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Least Favorite song – Anything by Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe was an abomination to this movie.  Les Mis surely didn't need his star power.  I can remember seeing the previews for the film months ago, thinking to myself, "huh, I didn't know Russell Crowe could sing."  And then I saw Les Mis.  "Nevermind, he can't."  The meaty role of Javert as the pious villain has the powerhouse songs of Les Mis, and Crowe's vocals were in tune (though with the modern technology available through autotune, you can't necessarily credit Crowe with that), they were thin and flat and had no power behind them.  Even his acting was subpar so not even that could make up for him being cast in a major role in a MUSICAL.  As someone who knows and loves Les Miserables, I waited for Javert's songs, only to be majorly disappointed.  He was by far the weakest link of the cast.

2nd weakest link was a tie between Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Sacha Baron Cohen as Thenardier.  Seyfried doesn't have a strong voice either (Hello, Mama Mia!) and so what should be light soft vocals ended up being overtaken by birdlike vibrato and an inability to sustain endings of songs, so the vocals were abrubptly cut off.  Sacha  Baron Cohen did a decent job as Thenardier, but he wasn't as hefty and grotesque as Thenardier is supposed to be, and when you're up next to Helena Bonham Carter, you're gonna lose.  Bonham Carter stole the show as Madame Thenardier in every scene she was in.

Overall, I give Les Miserables 2 thumbs up.


Eric Harris said...

I just can't get into musicals, which is why I didn't care for this one. But I'm glad to see that I'm not crazy in thinking Russell Crowe is awful in this. I'm not a very good judge of voice or anything like that, but when I heard Crowe sing the first time, I literally cringed in my seat.

MamaB said...

I have been waiting for this movie ever since I saw the trailer for it a long time ago. I told you that Anne Hathaway was AMAZING and Hugh Jackman performed an Oscar-winning role!

You are right--Russell Crowe was not the right person for this part but I haven't come up with anyone whom I thought could have pulled it off.

Sasha Cohen was good and I liked the comedic spin he put on such a disgusting character.

I tell anyone who asks about this movie that as much as I loved it on the stage, I think it was made for the big screen in that it was easier to follow on the screen than it is on the stage.

I heard the people sing and want to hear it again and again!