I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Miserables

tn_themiserablesAs you may have noticed, this week I’m doing some leading-up-to-the-Oscars-on-Sunday reviews. This one here completes my best-picture-nominees checklist, and then I’m gonna do a few less acclaimed previous movies from some of the nominees or people involved with the nominated films.

I know, I know. The Oscars don’t mean anything, blah blah blah. You know, the Super Bowl doesn’t prove who the best football player is either, but I don’t begrudge football fans for enjoying watching it. I like watching the Oscars every year and rooting for movies I like and against ones that I don’t like. I have no illusions about it being real important or an accurate scientific measurement of artistic worth or anything stupid like that, so skip the condescending lecture this year. I’ll just re-read the ones I got last year and the year before and the year before and repeat if desired.

The fact is I have fun watching the Oscars and I like to see all of the best picture nominees beforehand. As a non-professional critic and with the up-to-10-nominees they have now this is somewhat of an achievement, I think, and it forces me to watch some things I normally wouldn’t get around to. Before the nominations came out I was hoping the not-great buzz on LES MISERABLES would spare me having to sit through it, but no dice. So a couple weekends ago I saw AMOUR and the next weekend I capped it off with a Miserable Sunday.



I’m not a musical guy. Maybe sometimes in movies, but the world of Broadway is completely alien and unappealing to me. Okay maybe I’d watch the Spider-man one. But nothing else.

Because of that I didn’t really know anything about this LES MIS musical. Also I never read the Victor Hugo book it was adapted from, or knew what it was about, other than the French Revolution. Also I didn’t know anything about the French Revolution.

Furthermore, I did not think director Tom Hooper’s last movie THE KING’S SPEECH was all that great or that he was a very good director. And I resent him for stealing Tobe Hooper’s thunder as the director with the name T. Hooper. And even from people who have none of these ignorances or biases, I had not heard anything good about LES MISERABLES other than Anne Hathaway is good in it. So let’s be clear, I am not trying to give a fair review here, I am writing this only as a completist, biting the bullet to get through the 3ish hours so I can have an informed opinion on whichever one ends up winning the award.

But, shit. I liked this movie.

mp_themiserablesYou probly shouldn’t take that as “holy shit, for Vern to like this movie it must be amazing.” Those ignorances I listed probly actually helped me to appreciate it more than others. For one thing, I don’t give even one shit about the musical, let alone two, so I would not have any idea what problems anybody would have of this as an adaptation of that. More importantly, this was my first time experiencing this story. Turns out it’s a good story! An epic, spanning many years, in sections that cover different connected sets of characters. A vivid portrait of human misery and how the ruling class turn a blind eye to it, or help perpetuate it with their cold-hearted policies. A mythical life-long battle between two opposites, a good man who lives his entire life as a criminal on the run, and a well-meaning asshole who dedicates his life to enforcing a literalist, black-and-white interpreation of the law.

I’ll try to describe it accurately. I don’t want anybody to go in thinking this is gonna be exactly the same as THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE EXPENDABLES, TRANSFORMABLES or other “-ables” movies. It’s very, very similar but not exactly the same, so keep that in mind. And don’t expect WWE Superstar The Miz to be in very many important scenes. I don’t want you to be disappointed.

Although this is in fact a musical about singing, the lead actor Mr. Huge Ackman begins in full badass mode. He’s got a bushy beard and scrappily shaven, heavily-scarred scalp, he’s a convict doing hard labor knee deep in water pulling on a big rope followed by 52 brothers bruised, battered, and scarred, but hard. They’re singing a song about not making eye contact with the overseer Javert (Russell Crowe from THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS).

One thing they gotta do in this movie and probly not on stage, they gotta sing while getting water dumped on them. Here they’ve got waves spraying in their faces. Way later in the movie the brunette lady does her big number in the pouring rain and the second one with her face and hair drenched. I know the cast of STEP UP 2 THE STREETS are saying “tell me about it” but I can’t imagine that was easy.

And if you haven’t seen the propaganda film that they showed before all movies for a while at the chain theaters we have downtown, the singing in this movie was all done live on camera, not pre-recorded and lip-synched like in most movie musicals. This allows them to put the emphasis on acting in the moment instead of matching up to their previous choices. They can cry and sputter and change their timing and, I imagine, choke on a wave. Though somehow they avoid that.

Jackman is playing Jean Valjean, notorious bread thief. He got a heavy 5 year bid for stealing bread for his starving baby nephew (shades of HARA-KIRI here) and then it grew into 16 because he tries to bust out so many times. He gets out on parole but now he’s a Miserable, nobody will hire him because he has a record, he has to sleep in the sewers where random assholes constantly beat the shit out of him like they’re trying to act out A CLOCKWORK ORANGE before it exists. Only an unexpected act of kindness from a bishop (Colm Wilkinson) gets him a little dough and he’s like “fuck this” and jumps his parole to live under an alias and stop being treated so miserable-y.

Now it’s years later, Valjean looks more respectable and has become a successful businessman and even the mayor of his town. Fuckin Javert is around though, I think he’s been promoted to inspector or something, and if he recognizes Valjean our boy is fucked. Parole violation. Otherwise, he’s doing fine. But working in his factory is another Miserable: poor Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who right under his nose gets fired for some bullshit, at which point she has to sell her hair and teeth and prostitute herself ’cause she needs 200 bucks. Not for drugs, to buy her daughter Cosette back from some assholes that took her.

I told you I heard how good Anne Hathaway was, but I was not prepared for how good Anne Hathaway was. There’s a scene in here, probly famous by now, where she sings sort of the main song of the movie. But she does it laying in a coffin and it’s all done in close-up in one continuous take, Tony-Jaa-going-up-the-stairs style. She sings about how badly life has fucked her. She starts quiet, she gets louder, she cries, she screams in anger. It’s this hair-raising display of raw emotion, top notch acting, but still singing the damn song. I mean it’s just overwhelming. I had to remind myself that this is Catwoman here, in the real world she seems to be a really happy and stable young lady, who has had a good life so far and has been richly rewarded for her talents, and hung out with Julie Andrews. This is only acting, this isn’t how she really feels. If it had been some actress who I knew had been served a shit sandwich in life, like Lindsay Lohan or somebody, I would’ve probly started crying like a bitch. I’d be sitting there in a theater watching LES MISERABLES and crying because of a song about a sad lady. Thank you, THE MISERABLES, for sparing me that humiliation.

But man, that scene is one of those rare movie moments where it’s just an undeniable display of talent, you have to take your hat off and admire that somebody really pulled that off. I brought up Tony Jaa on purpose because that’s what it reminded me of, of those Human Special Effect moments when Tony or Jackie or somebody puts some ridiculous stunt on film and you can’t believe they actually did that. Or when Michelle Yeoh jumped the motorcycle onto the moving train. When this scene ended and it finally cut away from her I exhaled and thought, damn. And I was on board for the rest of the movie.

People have made fun of Russell Crowe in this movie, because he’s no Anne Hathaway. He doesn’t have a huge vocal range in my opinion, but I thought he did fine. I respect him for having the balls to do it. I guess I can see how maybe he was miscast for this part. I don’t know what it is traditionally but as a character he strikes me more as a little weinery guy, like maybe the bad guy in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2-3. Because there’s a scene where Valjean saves a man’s life by lifting a trailer off of him, and that’s how Javert recognizes him as a convict from back in the day, who was real strong. That moment would maybe make more sense if Javert was a dainty guy with soft hands who never worked a day in his life. But that’s not Russell Crowe. In fact, later in the movie when Javert goes undercover with the revolutionaries, and is dressed like a working class dude, I noticed that it looked way more natural than when he was wearing the uniform. So maybe Javert shouldn’t be as rugged as Russell Crowe.

Or maybe he should. Maybe if it was like that it would be stacking the deck too much, making it too easy to hate him. Crowe gives him some sense of humanity that makes his cluelessness all the more maddening. He’s a good villain. He understands law but not honor. He’s not evil, he’s just so set in his ways that he’d dedicate his life to the punishment of a guy for stealing bread, and then (SPOILER) would rather commit suicide than evolve his understanding of right and wrong.

Being a progressive factory owner, Valjean blames himself for what happened to Fantine and decides he owes her a Wookiee-like life debt. So he makes it his mission to rescue little Cosette from her owners, a couple of comical innkeepers played by Sacha Baron Cohen (SWEENEY TODD) and Helena Bonham Carter (SWEENEY TODD). I wonder if Hooper had to dress up as Tim Burton to direct her? Not all the comedy in this part works for me, but I got a few chuckles, and I think these two (especially Cohen) are funnier than most people would be, and are good at portraying these kind of repulsive characters.

Cosette grows up into Amanda Seyfried, who Valjean raises as a daughter without letting her know he’s a fugitive. She and the innkeeper’s spoiled daughter Eponine (Samantha Barks) both fall for a rich boy turned revolutionary named Marius. Cosette’s adoptive father is on the run ’cause he stole bread, so it’s ironic that she dedicates her life to loving this loaf of white bread played by Eddie Redmayne. At least in this version it seems like there’s not much emphasis on the grown up Cosette, but maybe that’s because we feel so much more for Eponine in this love triangle. She’s the one that gets rejected and gets to sing a couple touching songs about it, both while soaking wet.

Actually, this whole French Revolution section of the story feels a little rushed, but I don’t mind, I know they’re trying to fit alot on there. There’s a little boy who looks like Charlie Bucket. He sinsgs stuff like, “There was a time we killed the King / We tried to change the world too fast” and “This is the land that fought for liberty / Now when we fight we fight for bread.” I like it because he’s singing about a history he can’t possibly remember or understand. But this is the fight he’s been born into. It’s a sad idea, though not as sad as the ending where they’re all in some kind of Heaven where you still gotta fight for revolution and build a big wall out of junk! That doesn’t seem fair.

One character I didn’t get much of a read on is this long-haired co-revolutionary, who doesn’t seem as important as Marius just because he doesn’t get his own love story:

still_themiserables
I was thinking Disney should snatch this guy up to play Anakin in Revenge of the Sith: The Musical, or just Sith! as the Broadway nerds will nickname it. Think about it. Palpatine would sing “Not By a Jedi” on the balcony at the opera, Padme would sing “A Path I Cannot Follow (You Killed Younglings)” on planet Mustafar (number one export: lava). So many of the emotional leaps that people have a problem with in that movie they would fully accept in a musical: Anakin’s switch from hero to galactic menace, his “Noooo!!!” tirade after turning into Darth Vader, Padme dying of Losing The Will To Live. In fact, Jackman succumbs to the same disease in this movie. But in Sith! they could do a big song and make it more of a tear-filled show-stopper like Hathaway’s scene.

I had heard THE MISERABLES was a poorly shot movie. Well, it could be more visual. It’s definitely not a gorgeous one like EVITA or something, and for such an epic it’s pretty light on wide shots. There’s alot of scenes shot mostly in close up, and that might take away some of the specialness of Hathaway’s big scene. It would stand out even more if no other scenes were shot at all like that. But it’s a real lived-in world, looks like lots of giant, detailed sets, without too many of the obvious CGI shots you get now days (not that I’m against those necessarily).

My opinion of Hooper’s directivational skills has improved after this. I mean, he must be good with actors to get performances like Hathaway’s and Jackman’s. And the idea of doing the singing live on camera, which I’ve read was his insistence, definitely does add to the more emotional scenes. I’m not saying I’ll watch everything he does for now on, but I have more trust in him than I did just from THE KING’S SPEECH.

There’s also a scene where they’re climbing through a muddy sewer and there’s dead bodies. In my opinion the real T. Hooper for sure ghost directed this and probly most of the rest of the movie and should be given a greenlight and final cut on a $60 million remake of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D as his reward.

Anyway, you have my confession now. I liked THE MIS. And now I know what the deal is with that t-shirt with the sad little girl on it. I guess next I gotta figure out what the hell “Cats” is all about.

(I don’t mean that. Please don’t make a movie out of that and/or get it nominated for best picture.)

my reviews of this year’s best picture nominees:

Amour
Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook starring Chris Tucker
Step Up Revolution
Zero Dark Thirty

 

 

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 at 1:44 pm and is filed under Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

56 Responses to “The Miserables”

  1. Maybe it’s because my own hair is as long as my arm, but you call THAT long hair? Really? That’s average still-allowed-to-work-in-a-bank-without-getting-weird-looks-from-old-ladies hair length!

    Anyway, Les Miserable is one of these stories that have apparently been turned into film a million times, but I never saw any of its many different versions. Since the end of the 90s we got a non-musical version with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush, a non-musical TV miniseries with Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovich and Asia Argento and the current musical major motion picture event. I should finally go and watch at least one, although not necessarily one of these three.

  2. Yeah I’ve never seen any version of this either. Unlike most action fans and like any true lover of art I do respect musicals and have enjoyed many (mostly of the animated variety) but I’ve never been compelled to ever watch any version of this story. It just doesn’t appeal to me in anyway.

    Anywho I think the last time I saw the Oscars was when AMERICAN BEAUTY won. I tried to watch a couple after that and they just bored the shit out of me and I preferred spending the time catching up with movies I fell behind on instead. It’s not so much because I think it’s a “worthless” event or whatever. Every form of entertainment deserves to have it’s night of celebration. I just find the whole production overlong and pretty superflous for the most part.

  3. This movie sucked. Fuck Cosette and Marius. And the music is so nondescript.

  4. I had the same problem with the way it was filmed in all close-ups. I kept seeing bits on the interwebs when it was being filmed about all of these amazing locations they were using. Then I see the movie & it all looks like sets. Amazing sets, but still sets. Also, I remember there being some silly sign right over Hugh Jackman’s shoulder when he was singing his show-stopper, tender song which I noticed, but gave my friend the involuntary giggles.

    Anne Hathaway kicked more ass with her one song here than she did in her entire role as Catwoman. And I liked her as Catwoman.

  5. I kind of agree with renfield on this one. I had no real problem with Cosette or really anyone in particular. I HATED the camera work. Everything you accuse modern action direction of doing poorly was at least equally terrible here. T. Hooper needs someone to give him a Steadicam for his birthday and then make him play the filmic equivalent of Edward 40-Hands with it. Every two seconds he was swooping and diving with the camera. My wife said that she thought the movie was told from the point of view of a really interested flock of starlings. I wanted to like it from the beginning, with Huge Ackman lifting the heavy thing alone, but through that whole scene we are seeing the scene from every possible point of view. It was dizzying. By the time we were in the last act of the story I wanted to stop watching.

  6. I mean the characters moreso than the actors.

    I generally have nothing against musicals but I think this one is pretty lame.

    Bollywood makes better ones. In SHOLAY, the bad guys kidnapped her man and are gonna kill him unless she sings and dances for them, including over broken glass:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0wwL3AelO0

  7. FILM CRIT HULK has a pretty good article on badassdigest about Tom Hooper and his sometimes-tenuous grasp of the cinematographical language. To be honest, I never thought there was anything too bad about the way THE KING’S OSCAR ACCEPTANCE SPEECH was filmed. It just seemed competently directed and nothing more. Haven’t seen this version of THE MISERABLES, but the idea of filming a big sweeping epic musical in close-ups with handheld cameras sounds stupid.

  8. Ugh someone smash all his wide-angle lenses.

  9. I am shocked by this review. Because this movie is just really bad, in my opinion. Not well shot at all either. I think Film Critic Hulk did a much better job than I ever could at explaining why this is a poorly made movie but if you click on my link, you’ll find my review.

    Clearly, Vern, you lowered your expectations soooo low that the fact that it was in focus was enough to win you over. I can’t come up with a better explanation.

  10. CJ Holden–you can find the Depardieu/Malkovich version on Netflix Instant…. I highly recommend it.

  11. ARGO and STEP UP REVOLUTION are clearly the best of the bunch from this year’s Oscinees (short for Academy Award Nominees), though I haven’t yet seen AMOUR.

    I knew someone would bring up that damn crit hulk piece here. There’s something to be gained by reading it, sure, but personally I thought it was arrogant, condescending, misguided nonsense from FCH. All*h knows I’m with him/her/it on the Kubrick love and the passages about the Kubrick perfection; Kubrick belongs on all pedestals. But I am not a fan of tear-down pieces coming from a half-educated amateur, no matter how noble his/her/its intentions and no matter how self-effacingly he/she/it prefaces the piece. What’d Al Pope say? “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Indeed.
    The British T. Hooper tried something unique for this MISERABLES movie and it didn’t work for you, bud. No reason to bust out the hatchets and impugn a filmatist’s [in]ability to understand the “language of all filmmaking” or to suggest that your readers don’t know what the fuck “perspective” and “framing” means. (“You mean it matters where the camera is placed?!?!? No shit!? You’re blowing my goddamned mind!”) I don’t want to be in the same room with any asshole who thinks filmmaking has a set “language,” unless that person is responsible for keeping me on the Dean’s List at the end of the semester.
    People call this criticism “thoughtful” — I’d say it’s the opposite. FCH has severe limitations based on this piece. He/She/It’s done better.

    Anyway, Catwoman was the more impressive 2012 Anne Hathaway performance to my eyes & other anatomical parts, but yeah I’m glad to see the comparison to the awesome Tony Jaa scene. Always nice to see a writer on my wavelength bridge the tiny gap between musicals & martial arts films.

    The big surprise to me was Amanda Seyfried. Man, what a sweet voice! Didn’t know she was capable of that, and I wish she’d had more to do, maybe an extra original song for the awards considerations. Now I know what’s missing from LETTERS TO JULIET, a film I had hitherto regarded as nearly perfect. Maybe someday I can do a nerd fan supercut of LES MIS and L2J so that there’s singing in the latter.

    Jack Knife was pretty good in this LES MIS, here playing my favorite Les Mis character/symbol, the under-appreciated Javert. I’m not surprised to see others bitch about his voice or whatever, but I was surprised at how good (not great) he was and how his big moment at the end filmatically & emotionally succeeded in a way that neither Hugo’s book nor the stage productions have, in my experiences. Not saying it was superior, but it was unique and probably as good as what I remember from other versions. I’m for it.

    I probably won’t rewatch this one, and I won’t give Captain James T. Oscar any kudos for its selection as a Best Pic finalist, since it turns out I give a damn about neither monotonously shrill 19th century French poverty
    (I refuse to ever watch Helena Bonham Carter or Borat on the big screen again.)
    nor poorly filmed 19th century French uprisings
    (MaggieMayPie is right about the disappointing sets.),
    but if I do rewatch it someday I know I’ll have good parts to look forward to again. Overall, this movie did nothing for me, though. Pity, that, because the previews (not the propaganda pre-previews) were among the best I’ve ever seen.

    Special Ironic-Dichotomous Note For Your Consideration:

    -In RZA’s THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, Crowe plays a British emissary, and essentially an undercover cop/spy, with absolutely no moral restraints and no desire to gain a deity’s approval for the afterlife.

    -In LM, he plays a cop, and later an undercover cop/spy, with absolutely nothing *but* moral restraints & a desire for God’s approval for the afterlife.

  12. Yeah, I was a little hesitant to bring up that FCH article, because sometimes I feel he can be way too prescriptive. Like in the UNISOL: DOR review, where everything seemed to be a criticism of how it didn’t work within the context of an action movie. On the other hand I actually like that he talks about very basic cinematography concepts in that article, because those are the things that normal people (the bulk of his audience, not us) don’t think or care about.

    Mouth, I will listen for your screams from across the Pacific Ocean when ZD30 wins Best Picture.

  13. I wouldn’t say that there is a set “language” to filmmaking that must always be followed no matter what but you at least have to know what the rules are if you’re going to break them and know WHY you’re breaking them. It’s pretty clear to me that Tom Hooper has no idea, which is why a lot of his choices seem random and designed to draw attention to themselves, while actively working against the effect he’s hoping to achieve.

  14. British T. Hooper gets more credit than that from me. No, none of his choices are “random.” Yes, he “knows what the rules are,” though I don’t disagree with complaints about the annoying, ugly nature of his visual choices & his close-up motif that disallows earned catharsis by force-feeding constant (and thus necessarily artificial) catharsis. If there’s anything in cinema I hate, it’s an overabundance of close-ups (This is why I find Baz Luhrmann nigh unwatchable and “the Spielberg face” a massive flaw in an otherwise obviously great filmmaker’s works.), especially when it involves ugly people with bad teeth & dirty 18th century peasant costumes.

    But Hooper was just attempting to make a version that doesn’t replicate the Broadway experience. What do you get when you see THE MISERABLES on the stage? A relatively distant view, a static perspective, possibly obstructed by some pituitary case between you & the players, with your only chance to get a read on the eyes of the dramatis personae resting in the little paper program, with its tiny b&w headshots if you’re lucky.

    Well, Hooper’s version here goes for the complete opposite of all that, and for that I respect it.

    No, Hooper’s not saying, as FCH suggests, “Derp, I like Kubrick I have camera let’s sing and everyone will think I’m great I hope nerds with no auteuristical experience themselves don’t pillory me for this close-ups! close-ups! camera goes here because I don’t know derp.”

    No, I have reason to believe that he was thinking more like, “Okay, what can we do with cinema that’s impossible with the stage & book versions? Of course, we can bring the performers & audience close together. We can have floating cameras that move across multiple sets. We can emulate the best of COME & SEE’s visuals, but focus on some comedy & score this thing so it’s occasionally uplifting instead of depressing. We can bridge time & place in a way that would be prohibitively expensive even in Julie Taymor’s wildest Broadway fever dreams. People might bitch about counting Hugh Jackman’s nose hairs, but that’s a chance I’ll take because Huge Ackman is, simply put, one of the absolute best stage musical performers of our lifetimes, so let’s try it. And we’re gonna shoot in an innovative, unprecedented fashion, with live singing & digitally-disappeared mics, even if imbeciles like Film Crit Hulk later choose to ignore these landmark technical cinema innovations in favor of ridiculing my supposed lack of intellect & competence. And I’m going to shoot it in a way that will be impossible to ‘save’ in the cutting room, but that’s a creative risk I’ll have to take, and I’ll take that risk now because this is a dream project for me and I have creative-budget capital since THE KING’S SPEECH ”

    This is what FCH totally misses, because he/she/it is too busy & pleased with him/her/itself in mentioning that he/she/it knows the semantic difference between “tracking shot” and “dolly shot” or whatever. Instead of noting that most of LES MIS’s emotional notes didn’t land for FCH, that the film didn’t seem to work as intended, he/she/it goes on & on to say that the film is an affront to film and to that viewer’s concept of “the rules” & “language of filmmaking” (which is a stupidly limiting concept at best and fucking nonsense at worst).

    It’s like reading a college freshman who happens to be the president of the Jane Austen Fan Club, who happens to have taken a couple 100 level English Lit courses, go on to harshly review a Bret Easton Ellis novel. “OMG, I don’t get it. This isn’t right. This isn’t how you do it. This guy Ellis doesn’t know the basic language of literature.”

    But like I said, some of the article/review is good stuff. I just feel the need to take dude[tte] down a peg.

  15. One thing I meant to mention about the Anne Hathaway song: toward the end I suddenly noticed a bloody spot in her gums where the tooth was supposed to have been pulled out. Are you telling me she had a little prosthetic or something in her mouth that whole time she was singing?!

  16. I just noticed that the LES MIS thumbnail is eerily similar to the AMOUR one. I hope these are the first in a series of dude-holding-an-Oscar-nominated-actress’s-head-in-his-hands themed reviews.

  17. If that’s the case, then we’re now comparing Anne Hathaway to both Tony Jaa & Jackie Chan, who famously filmed much of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX with a broken ankle, masked by a sock worn over his cast & painted to look like shoes & pants.

  18. There’s a difference between using close ups to provide more intimacy than you can achieve on the stage and shooting the WHOLE FUCKING MOVIE in nothing but close ups. A big difference.

  19. Vern, as always, love your reviews… “planet Mustafar (number one export: lava)”. I burst out laughing at that! Really, what the hell are they doing on Mustafar, anyways?

  20. At the very least, this derided movie strengthens the “the Oscars are bullshit” sentiment, so there’s something positive to take from the experience.

    And it has brought about an opportunity for Vern to link to the awesome climactic dance scene of STEP UP 2 THE STREETS. That can never happen enough.

    And Vern brought up STAR TREK shit *and* made a [REDACTED] reference here without either issue becoming a dominant discussion topic, somehow. That’s progress. Good job, guys. SILVER LININGS, etc..

    Special Academy Awards Edition of “Mouth Predicts” :

    -Anne Hathaway will clown Matt Lauer in her acceptance speech.
    -Seth MacFarlane will be heavily booed at least 3 times.
    -Quvenzhané Wallis will doze off during the show and/or will be in the bathroom when her category is announced.
    -Clint Eastwood will at some point be on a stage with an empty chair. Billy Crystal will be involved somehow.
    -The most twittered moment will be when a presenter mispronounces “Eiko Ishioka” and draws the ire of the FCC.
    -The late Tony Scott, Charles Durning, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, and Ernest Borgnine will receive the most applause.
    -Jennifer Lawrence will attempt to sit on George Clooney’s lap.
    -Joaquin Phoenix will attempt to make out with Jennifer Lawrence.

  21. Anne Hathaway is another tragic victim of popularity causing people to dismiss or ignore her talent. She also is a poor victim of backlash against the sure thing at awards season. I cannot stand that this performance gets dismissed as “Anne Hathaway singing pretty songs while crying.”

  22. My beef is they sing every line, but all the lines between big numbers aren’t really good songs. They’re just lines spoken with a few rises in notes. I’d be more impressed if a one-line song was the awesomest single line ever recorded. As it is they’re just pretending to sing lines that they’re really just talking until the next full song comes up.

  23. I suppose you have a problem with Trapped In the Closet too, Fred.

  24. Vern, this is one of my favorite reviews of yours in a long time. I don’t mean that in the passive aggressive “you’ve not been very good and this is a good one” way, either, but in a “this is really great from someone who is consistently worth reading”. Very good stuff.

    Also, not sure if you intended to make fun of the folks who comment here but way to make a review about LES MISERABLES (something I very much love in almost every form) a review that spends a lot of time talking about Star Wars, Batsman, and Professional Wrestling. Bravo.

  25. Les Miserables was awful. It was like 3 films in one, the cast with the exception of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, were pretty good and believable, Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bohan Carter were brilliant and saved the film for me. Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe should never have been cast, they are excellent actors but this big film needed real singers, they left me cold. I had my tissues ready for the tears but I was holding them to my mouth to stop myself from laughing! When Russell Crowe jumps I nearly applauded and would have followed him. The very end nearly got me but it was too late. The story is beautiful but this version was not.

  26. Hey now, let’s not bring TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET down with this hatefest. As I noted in one of the recent “year in review” threads, CLOSET: CHAPTERS 23-33 is my pick for 2nd best film of 2012.

    I’m also a fan of Les parapluies de Cherbourg (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG), which many people list among their most beloved films of all time. And they sing everything in that one. So it can be done.

    Incidentally, last night’s Tosh.0 had the same complaint as Fred about the singing-dialogue, among other jokes that echo many complaints about all the big Oscinees.
    http://tosh.comedycentral.com/video-clips/spoiler-alert—oscars—uncensored

  27. Whoa whoa whoa!!! TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET is STILL going on? despite the fact that the album it was originally on is almost 8 years old? that Robert Kelly is quite the workhorse. Chris Walken ain’t got shit on him.

  28. Here’s an example of why I love this community. We all agree that STEP UP REVOLUTION was nominated for Best Picture. We’re not being ironic about it. We’re just manifesting our own reality.

  29. Mouth, I was meaning to ask you on an earlier thread somewhere – where did you find those later Trapped in the Closets? I didn’t see them on DVD and whatever IFC played on Black Friday was this weird, shapeless reality-show hour that may or may not have included the full songs. The songs just seemed to fade to black without an ending, and I seriously couldn’t tell if I was watching a weird trailer for the new chapters or the actual chapters themselves. (The weird Robocop/Starship Troopers esque reality show/news wraparound device made things even more confusing)

  30. Twas on someone else’s dvr, neal2zod, presumably recorded off IFC, watched during a small house gathering in a commercial-free haze that only accentuated the weirdness. None of it makes much sense. That’s why I like it so much. I guess it was like a MST3K type viewing experience, except that, instead of ironic ridicule, I fully respect that there’s genuine genius in the work we were all laughing at & fascinated by.

    I can’t honestly recommend TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET to everybody. I’m a big R. Kelly fan, but I know this groundbreaking, borderline nonsense series is only for special sing-along party occasions. Not everyone will be fascinated by it. Unlike, say, DR. HORRIBLE, which is a sing-along good for any time of any day in any setting.

  31. “My beef is they sing every line, but all the lines between big numbers aren’t really good songs. They’re just lines spoken with a few rises in notes.”

    This sounds like typical allergic-to-musicals rhetoric but I really believe this is the crucial point w/r/t MIZ. There is SO much singing, and so much of it goes fucking nowhere, that you become totally numb to it. Notes and their relationship to one another lose their meaning. Compare it to shit like the “Far too many notes” dialogue-that-is-also-sung sequence from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, where the music has proportion and direction.

    Also, I like me some close-ups and the problem is not that Hooper uses them. It’s that he uses them on the extreme edge of the frame, and in ‘scope, so that 90% of the frame is just blurry nondescript background that you can’t help but stare at. I mean let’s say Hatheway is melting the universe in that 10% of the frame, but you’re so flabbergasted that there’s all this nothingness staring you in the face that you can’t even pay attention to her.

    I guess it only happened a handful of times throughout the picture but I found it pretty distracting. It draws a lot of attention to itself. I think Mouth is trying to argue that the point is to draw attention to the characters in a subversion of the typical way you experience a stage musical, and I can’t help but feel that Hooper failed utterly in that respect. It seems like he’s desperately trying to forge his trademark. Prolly up all night googling “Hooper+Auteur”. http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/lmahdream.jpg

    Lastly everybody gets up in arms about AH’s big number but it doesn’t really do justice to HOW incredible she is in the film. Literally the first little throwaway line she utters in the factory elevates the proceedings to an absurd degree. Hopefully she’ll get to take over the fucking world in her next project.

  32. Nabroleon Dynamite

    February 21st, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Had to stop reading after the ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’ reference.

    Nothing will make my day better than that.

    Genius Very, Genius!!

  33. Nabroleon Dynamite

    February 21st, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Very should be Vern. (my spellcheck is yet to learn of your pedigree)

    I know my The Last Circus review requests haven’t panned out, but allow me to double down and add ABC’s Of Death to my review request list.

    Peace!!

  34. I agree with the “too many close-ups” criticism. Had the same problem with The Road. It’s as if some directors think that it will add to the emotional intensity, but don’t realise that the close-up has lost some of its impact because of decades of television. Shoot everything in close-up and you’re left with a soap opera. Not good. These guys have to learn to use it more sparingly. There Will Be Blood is a perfect example of when, how and to what extent to use the close-up.

    Another shooting choice that I found strange was Hooper’s occasional use of dutch tilts and negative space for framing. These are some very obvious and distinct composition tricks that are normally only used in very specific situations (usually to portray a character’s frame of mind), but he just randomly pops one of those shots in there whenever he wants. Negative spacing works well in The King’s Speech when he wants us to see how belittled Colin Firth is feeling, but more often than not it just didn’t make much sense in Les Miserables.

    Anyway, I did like it. Probably liked the musical aspects of it more than the filmmaking ones, and it did drag a bit in the middle, but I was quite impressed. If The Hobbit doesn’t win the Best Musical Oscar, I think this will.

  35. Shit. Thought I was the only one talking about the cinematography of Les Miserables, then I read the comments and see that’s all everyone’s talking about. Man, I love discussions about the way a film is shot. Cinematography just fascinates me. There’s a great doccie on it called Visions of Light, if anyone’s interested. The bit where Conrad Hall talks about shooting In Cold Blood is just awesome.

    I do wish they’d do a follow-up concentrating on the greats working today. Guys like Deakins, Elswit, Richardson and that god-amongst-cinematographers Lubezki.

  36. Cinematography is probably the cinema element that excites me the most, the one I’m most likely to obsess over on repeat viewings. That, and hotness of the female characters.

  37. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a good thing to film a movie completely different from how you would normally film such a movie. Of course you have to follow certain rules (or we get something like the unwatchable mess that are the first two BOURNE sequels), but most of the rules for filming and editing movies are pretty new, so why not experiment with them a little?

    I mean, up until the early 70’s it was an unwritten rule to ALWAYS film the star in good lighting and never make him look dirty or something. Then Robert Altman filmed MCCABE & MRS MILLER and the studio bosses wanted to fire him at first, because of how he introduced Warren Beatty in the first scene (Hint: He was dirty, you couldn’t see his face and the lighting was all natural.) And today it is completely normal to film a movie in such a way.

    Then in the late 80’s the so called “MTV style” snuck into the language of cinema. Cuts became faster, everything looked more stylish and again, everything that felt revolutionary or even BLASPHEMIC about it, is now pretty normal.

    So isn’t it possible in 10 years we will look back at T. HOOPER’S THE MISERABLE and think “Isn’t it great how he liberated the movie musical from its rusty visual chains” or at least “Wow, I got no idea why people were upset about its look back in the days”?

  38. CJ, I think it is much more likely they will say “Dear God, what an unlistenable, ugly piece of crap. THIS got nominated for best picture?!”

  39. Yeah, one thing about which I agree with that crit Hulk nerd is that Brit T. Hooper’s MISERABLES is sadly comparable to BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

    But, for some audiences (and Oscar voters, apparently), it’s not that bad, not a headache, not “ugly” so much as “immediate” or “visceral” or at least a new twist & interpretation of the stage musical experience. Maybe it’s all the same assholes who think shaky-cam & quick-cuts-style is a good innovation in action filmatism. A lot of people got genuinely swept up in the emotion & close-up style of this LES MIS. Just not most of us.

  40. And yet I think we should give him at least credit for making a star filled oscar bait musical, that doesn’t look anything like they usually do. If he would have turned out the usual cheesy, colourful sing and dance numbers, that you usually associate with this kind of subgenre, people would have congratulated him for doing the required unoriginal hackwork.

    As I mentioned before, I haven’t seen the movie. Only clips from it. But I like the way Hooper thought. When the movie was announced, I’m sure that we had all the same pictures in our head and in the end he came out with something that was apparently completely different than what musicals are supposed to look like.

  41. Damn, I really wanna Battlefield Earth again. Only saw it once and laughed so loud. If ever there was an argument for so-bad-it’s-good, it’s Travolta’s hilarious shrine to Master L. Ron.

  42. Also, I really don’t think that Greengrass’ Bourne movies are an unwatchable mess, CJ. They may have helped popularize shakycam, but they’re damn good action movies. If no one else mimicked that look, and shakycam wasn’t the big problem that it is in Hollywood today, most people would have probably seen it as a unique and fitting aesthetic for that series (which I’m guessing is what they were going for when they made them).

  43. I know, I always tell the same story, but I when I watched BOURN3 for the first time, I had to stop the DVD after 15 minutes, because the visual style made me seriously aggressive. I couldn’t even count to three until the next cut happened and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Then when I tried again the next day, the movie really made me feel sick and gave me a headache for the rest of the day. I didn’t have any trouble with watching CLOVERFIELD on the big screen, but this movie on a TV screen, totally fucked me up.

  44. In that case, stay the hell away from The Hungry Games. That shit will give you seizures.

  45. I don’t buy this whole notion where Hooper did something different or against the grain here musical wise.

    This whole getting-the-actual-actors-to-sing bit is decades old. You used to have Julie Andrews come in and overdub Audrey Hepburn. Woody Allen and Baz Luhrman were like “nah it’s more REAL if we have the actors do it” (or whatever they said that led them to do it).

    Now Hooper took it a logical step further and said “okay and not only are they themselves singing, but they don’t get to overdub themselves later.” And digitally erased the microphones.

    And some of the camera angles are weird.

  46. And yet even EVERYBODY SAYS I LOVE YOU, where it was meant to be funny when the actors sang their songs even if it sounded horrible, looks and feels more glamourous and like a standard musical, than this movie here apparently does. (And Woody Allen isn’t really that much of a visual director.)

  47. (I have to point out again that I have only seen clips from LES MISERABLES, so I apologize if I talk about of my ass and don’t really want to have a deeper discussion until I saw the full movie. But judging by the reaction from most people, the movie looks and feels exactly like what I saw, only cranked up to at least 8,5. )

  48. *OUT of my ass, not about.

  49. Well, CJ, that’s the thing about taking a risk and doing something different (if you think this LES MIS is all that unique)… you can fail and fall flat on your face. Still, it seems like they should have gotten a few weeks into filming and realized it wasn’t working and started over. Considering how long fans have been anticipating this movie, you’d think they’d have been willing to do that. Imagine if Robert Zemeckis if had continued filming BACK TO THE FUTURE with Eric Stoltz instead of realizing the mistake and starting over… that’s pretty much what we have here.

  50. I will also continue to repeat myself. Car chase in BOURNE SUPREMACY = incomprehensible. Fight scene too. Yet I find QUANTUM OF SOLACE a masterpiece of editing.

    I think score has a lot to do with it. BOURNE has a score that makes you feel you’re watching something exciting.

    BTW: I watched The Miserables and Liam Neeson never sang. Is that not one of his specific skills?

  51. Well, I don’t know, is the consensus that it didn’t work? I hadn’t heard good things about it, but it did manage to get nominated for best picture. It seems like some people (besides me) must like it.

    As for the live singing thing, I don’t think it’s the first time it’s been done, but obviously it’s not how the vast majority of musicals do it, and in this case it was a good choice. I don’t see how Hathaway’s big scene could ever be as powerful if she had to dredge up the emotions in time to how she previously recorded the song. I don’t care if it’s groundbreaking or not, it works.

    It kind of reminds me of that Robert Altman movie KANSAS CITY. Not the greatest movie but those scenes with the jazz bands playing live to film were incredible.

  52. I think Hathaway’s number is definitely the best scene in the movie and I think, yes, you can say the living singing allowed her to give a better performance. I mean, even in that scene, Hooper is undermining her with his terrible choices but it works regardless.

    But I don’t see how ANY other number benefits from the live singing… “Master of the House” is the probably the most blatant example of a number just completely ruined by singing it live with a couple of amateurs. I think Baron Cohen and Bonhama Carter did okay in SWEENEY TODD but they are just awful here. And maybe you could auto-tune Russell Crowe into a good singer, who knows? But while I think his acting is good, his singing is painful. I don’t how anyone listen to him and think otherwise but you know, to each their own, I guess.

  53. Ugh, I apologize for my shitty grammar in that last post.

  54. I almost fell asleep watching this, and I have to admit I wasn’t all that impressed until the end – the end got me choked up. At first I hated the jumpy camera too. I appreciate musicals, haven’t been to a whole lot in real life, but I like the ones I’ve seen, and the film adaptations too. I don’t hate them automatically, but I do think they’re a difficult thing to pull off well. Initially I thought there were only a couple good songs, Fantine’s big number being one, but when I watched part of it again about a week later, (ducked in for last hour after watching something else), I enjoyed it a whole lot more. I was no longer engaging my critical skills judging the story, or the singing, or anything in fact. I knew what was gonna happen and I simply accepted it. It’s a good story with a very uplifting and moral message, and I can understand why people are so passionate about it. I know it’s not fair to compare performances, but I think Huge Ackman should probably have won an Oscar over DDL – I mean Lincoln didn’t sing and dance did he?

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>