Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Written by William Nicolson, Alain Boubill, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer

Directed by Tom Hooper

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  January 1, 2013  6:15PM

"Les Misérables", the dark and melancholy musical, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, first appeared on a French stage in 1980 and inexplicably has gone on to become a beloved global sensation. I saw this show when a touring company swung in to town about fifteen years ago and I have to admit, I wasn't particularly impressed, unable to fathom what the fuss was all about this depressing play.

With the film version finally made and directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for his impressive job on "The King's Speech", time has given me a better understanding and appreciation of the musical but still fail to see the great appeal as it's still pretty much a big downer. Although all the right elements are in place; film stars that surprisingly do not embarrass themselves as they actually have decent singing voices (which is made even more notable as they actually sang live during filming), a dazzling production design, crisp cinematography by Danny Cohen (who was nominated for his work on "The King's Speech") along with the familiar breathtaking musical score (including a new song, "Suddenly" written by the original composers for the film) but this "Les Misérables" still feels stagy and grounded. The director fails to use what's available to him to create a soaring cinematic spectacular and has made the film feel even more claustrophobic due to the insistence of extensive tight shots of the actors.

Set in nineteenth century France, Jean Valjean is a prisoner doing hard labor for the crime of stealing bread to feed his family. He's played by a completely unrecognizable Hugh Jackman who has gone from his usual handsome, muscle-bound screen persona to being reduced to a filthy, gaunt but incredibly strong convict. Before the actor became better known as a action-hero, Mr Jackman first made his name in the musical theater, so it's no surprise that he delivers a committed, deeply heartfelt performance that is one of his best on film.Vajean has just completed serving a nineteen year sentence but is reminded by the police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), a man who views the world strictly in black or white, that he will always be a worthless criminal.

Shunned and unable to find work, Valjean resorts to stealing from the church who fed him. After he is caught, an act of kindness from the priest makes Valjean realize he can alter the course of his life. So he breaks his parole and goes off to begin again, taking on a new identity. Years later, Valjean has not only become a successful and wealthy factory owner but the mayor of his new town. After a man is pinned under a cart, Valjean lifts it off him and Javert, passing through town, witnesses this feat. He doesn't remember Valjean immediately but soon becomes aware of his previous life.

One of the factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is discovered to be an unwed mother and is fired by the foreman. She has been sending her earnings to a corrupt couple, the Thenardiers, (played for by Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) to care for her young daughter, Cosette. Selling her teeth, hair and inevitably, her body to earn desperately needed money, Fantine soon becomes seriously ill. After she is about to be arrested by Javert, Valjean recognizes Fantine and learns of her dire circumstances. He orders that she is released and gets her to a hospital. Valjean promises the dying Fantine that he will care for her daughter but Javert comes to reveal that he knows his true identity. Valjean escapes, managing to get Cosette from the Thenardiers (for a large sum of cash) before the police inspector arrives.

Valjean and Cosette (now a beautiful young woman played by Amanda Seyfried) having quietly settled in Paris, sheltering his daughter from their past. She has caught the eye of Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a student but Eponine (Samantha Banks), the daughter of the Thenardiers who have also moved to the city of lights, is secretly in love with him. Fed up with the government ignoring the plight of the poor, Marius, along with his good friend, Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) organize other students to start a revolution. After they wage a deadly battle with the police, Javert poses as one of the rebels to spy on them but is caught and ordered to be killed. With their paths crossing one final time, Valjean and Javert face each other but the former prisoner now has the upper hand.

Musicals are very difficult to bring successfully to the silver screen as they teeter the fine line between trying to hang on to the spirit of the theatrical presentation while struggling to find a sense of realism that is required by today's audience. Mr.Hooper displays plenty of skill and ambition but this large production seems a little over his head. The director confidently manages to get fine work from his actors but less sure of where to place the camera. The film twirls and swirls in constant motion but once a song begins, the movement abruptly halts as we watch a character, in extreme close-up, exposing their deep, dark emotions with musical accompaniment. Perhaps Mr. Hooper felt that showing each pore on every dirty, miserable tear-stained face will help make "Les Misérables" appear more cinematic but the only time this is actually effective is during Ms Hathaway's moving performance of the musical's signature song, "I Dreamed A Dream". The actress delves deeply as she brings all of the pain and suffering Fantine has endured in her young life to the surface, seen almost entirely tight on her luminous face. This is easily the film's most captivating moment and I'm not ashamed to admit that I was actually brought to tears

The script is credited to four writers and with two being the composers of the musical, it's not quite clear what the other two contributed since there is virtually no dialogue in this film. The story still manages to feel rushed despite a running time of one hundred and fifty-eight minutes.

The idea of casting Mr. Crowe in a musical would appear to be a head-scratcher but the actor has performed in his own rock band for many years. Although he has a pleasant baritone and handles his songs fairly well but he's not really up to the vocal challenges of this music as his voice is a bit colorless. I found myself more interested in whether the actor would be able to hit his notes that being moved by what he was singing. The use of Mr. Cohen and Ms Bonham Carter to inspire some much needed levity falls flat and their singing, while nowhere near as painful as the crooning of Pierce Bronson in "Mamma Mia", is not much more than competent. As the young lovebirds, Ms Seyfried displays a very lovely voice but the real surprise is Mr Redmayne, best known as stage actor, who makes an electrifying impression on screen with strong, commanding vocals.

As a stage-to-screen adaption, the success of "Les Misérables" falls somewhere in the middle as it's neither a badly translated musical nightmare nor an unforgettable magical experience. It is simply a serviceable affair that highlights some genuinely, heart-breaking moments told through some beautiful songs of pain, passion and despair but overall, never ignites enough to to make all of these big emotions in this long, bleak journey feel more than superficial.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Breaking from tradition with the announcement arriving almost two weeks early, this morning, Emma Stone and (with another unusual twist) this year's host, Seth MacFarlane presented the nominations for the 2013 Academy Awards.

With a sign of what to expect on this year's telecast, Mr. MacFarlane came out and shook-up the proceedings by doing a brief stand-up routine before calling Ms Stone out of the audience. Although they got the reporters laughing, most of the jokes were either stale or just a bit too edgy so early in the morning (most particularly the joke regarding Harvey Weinstein and the Best Supporting Actress nominees) and unnecessarily delayed getting those nominations out.

In regards to the actual nominations, there were no real major surprises with the exception of nine year-old, Quvenzhané Wallis for Best Actress, which I am very happy about and Bradley Cooper's nomination for Best Actor which I'm less impressed about. Popcorn flicks were left in the dust as "Skyfall" only received technical awards while "The Dark Knight Rises", surprisingly, got absolutely nothing, There were nine Best Picture nominees this time with "Lincoln" leading the field with the most nominations at twelve. I don't know if this is some kind of record but in the Best Supporting Actor race, all five nominees have already won an Oscar.

The 85th Annual Academy Awards will be presented on February 24, 2013 at the Dolby Theater on ABC.

Here is a complete list of the nominations: 

Best Picture 
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Django Unchained"
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Director 
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actor 
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"
Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"

Best Actress 
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"

Best Supporting Actor 
Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"

Best Supporting Actress 
Amy Adams,"The Master"
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Adapted Screenplay 
Chris Terrio, "Argo"
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
David Magee, "Life of Pi"
Tony Kushner, "Lincoln"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Original Screenplay 
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"
John Gatins, "Flight"
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Mark Boal, "Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Foreign Language Film 
"Amour" (Austria)
"Kon-Tiki" (Norway)
"No!" (Chile)
"A Royal Affair" (Denmark)
"War Witch" (Canada)

Best Animated Feature Film 
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
"Wreck-It Ralph"

Best Production Design 
"Anna Karenina"
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"

Best Cinematography 
"Anna Karenina"
"Django Unchained"
"Life of Pi"

Best Original Score 
Dario Marianelli,  "Anna Karenina"
Alexandre Desplat, "Argo"
Mychael Danna,  "Life of Pi"
John Williams, "Lincoln"
Thomas Newman,  "Skyfall"

Best Original Song 
J. Ralph, "Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice"
Walter Murphy & Seth MacFarlane, "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from "Ted"
Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri, "Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi"
Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, "Skyfall" from "Skyfall"
Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil, "Suddenly" from "Les Miserables"

Best Sound Mixing
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"

Best Film Editing 
"Life of Pi"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Documentary Feature 
"5 Broken Cameras"
"The Gatekeepers"
"How to Survive a Plague"
"The Invisible War"
"Searching for Sugar Man"

Best Documentary Short Subject 
"Kings Point"
"Mondays at Racine"
"Open Heart"

Best Animated Short Film 
"Adam and Dog"
"Fresh Guacamole"
"Head over Heels"
"Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare"

Best Live Action Short Film 
"Buzkashi Boys"
"Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)"

Best Costume Design 
"Anna Karenina"
"Les Miserables"
"Mirror Mirror"
"Snow White and the Huntsman"

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Miserables"

Best Visual Effects 
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Life of Pi"
"The Avengers"
"Snow White and the Huntsman