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“Les Miserables” (2012) – Review

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Click on image to vie trailer

Director: Tom Hooper

Writers: Claude-Michel Schoneberg & Alain Boublil (Show Book), Herbert Kretzmer (Lyrics), James Fenton (Additional Text[?]), and William Nicholson (Screenplay)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helen Boham Carter

We begin with song as prisoners toil to bring a listing French war ship into dry dock. At the end of their day of labor Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is presented his release on parole by Officer Javert (Russell Crowe). Branded as a former criminal for life Valjean is unable to find work and is harassed by the people. Eventually he finds sanctuary in a monastery through the kindness of the Monsignor. The kindness is repaid by theft as Valjean steals the silver in the night, but is quickly caught by the authorities and brough back to the monastery. But there he does not find condemnation but forgiveness.

The Monsignor once again extends a hand of friendship and gives Valjean the silver and a second chance. Overcome by the act, Valjean becomes a changed man. Renouncing his old life he also renounces his name and becomes Monsieur Madeleine. Years pass and he becomes a successful factory owner and town mayor. But then Inspector Javert enters his life again. Suspicious of Valjean after an extraordinary display of strength rescuing someone beneath a horse cart, Javert inquires into “M. Madeleine’s” past. But his suspicions are initially proved false when he discovers that Valjean has been recently captured and will face a court for breaking his parole. Once informed of this, the real Valjean suffers a guilty conscience for the wrongly prosecuted man and reveals his true identity. What follows is a cat and mouse game between Valjean and Javert through years, cities, and history by the end of which both become changed men.

Forgetting this is a film and not a Broadway show, William Nicholson the screenwriter is too slavishly loyal with his adaptation. Though I have not seen the show yet, it is obvious by the lovers that fall too quickly in love–Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) & Marius (Eddie Redmayne)–and the disjointed lapses in time within the same segment–Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) fall from grace–that the screenplay does not veer far from the show book. What works on the stage where there is greater audience suspension-of-disbelief comes across as lazy writing of character development & motivation in a film. With the exception of Valjean throughout the film and Fantine in the beginning, why any character does anything is never properly shown. Also, great Hollywood musicals are films where characters speak to each other with dialogue and only break out into song at pivotal moments. Having every spoken word sung causes a distraction to regular dialogue and minimizes those moments where the songs are meant to be impactful.

As for the direction, Tom Hooper in wanting the audience to make sure we aware that the actors in fact sang while they were being filmed choses to show almost every scene in close-up. Though this is a powerful choice with the emotional solos of Fantine and Valjean, it becomes nauseous when more than three actors are involved and the shot is constantly cutting between performers. That being said, the choice of actually filming the actors sing their performance was an excellent one.

Anne Hathaway is rightfully praised for her performance of Fantine, and her moving rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Hugh Jackman also holds his own both musically and by his acting as Jean Valjean. Russell Crowe has been unfairly maligned with his singing performance as Javert. When called to sing during the powerful songs and his solos Crowe succeeds, but falters with the sung dialogue. Eddie Redmayne is the biggest surprise as Marius, both for his acting and vocal abilities. Sacha Baron Cohen & Helen Boham Carter steal every scene they are in as the married con-artists and comic relief.

The set design is interesting; almost a stage production on steroids. The backgrounds are noticeably askew and a little unbelievable, but appropriate to the story. They are off, but in a good way.

Les Miserables in the end is a flawed film with great performances. The end of the film is emotional and impactful, but does not make up for what comes before. I was left more with a feeling of what could have been.

Grade = C

 

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“Hugo” – Movie Review

Click on image to view trailer

Director:  Martin Scorsese

Writer:  John Logan

Stars:  Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen

Though not your typical Martin Scorsese film, Hugo is a film that could only be made by a person who loves movies as much as Martin Scorsese.  It is a film directed by a movie buff for movie buffs and those that appreciate film history.  Put simply, this is not a children’s film.

The film starts slowly and builds its world.  And what a beautiful world it is; fully realized and all-encompassing.  It is a world of clockworks, the dawn of the industrial age, when everything mechanical is beautiful and full of wonder.  In this world, between the walls separating the outside from the in, you are in the home of Hugo (Asa Butterfield); where the gears move, pipes steam, and you can see everything through the vents and the clock faces.

Hugo is the story of Hugo’s quest to fix his father’s last project, and in doing so finds himself and a family.  When we first meet Hugo, he is living in the old employee quarters of the train station.  From his vantage point behind clock faces and vents, he can see and be everywhere.  He is caught one afternoon by George, the Toy Merchant (Ben Kingsley), trying to steal a wind-up mouse–not for the toy itself, but the clockworks inside.  To avoid being given over to the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo agrees to give the Toy Merchant everything in his pockets, including his father’s notebook.  The notebook becomes the catalyst for all that happens next.

The notebook is one of the last remnants from his father (Jude Law) who was killed in a fire.  In it are the notes regarding an automaton his father was repairing.  But the Toy Merchant also recognizes the automaton and refuses to return the notebook.  What follows next is not only an adventure to regain the notebook and repair the automaton, but the story of how two damaged souls were healed.

Also along the way you are treated to the early history of French silent films and privy to the secrets of old-time filmcraft.  You will view classic scenes from Buster Keaton movies, The Great Train Robbery, and George Melies films–such as Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon).

The acting is great throughout.  Asa Butterfield–great last name–carries the film well.  Ben Kingsley is spot-on as the despondent Toy Merchant with a secret past, and Chloe Grace Moretz (Isabelle) holds her own as the Toy Merchant’s god-daughter who befriends Hugo.  The remaining supporting cast is equally great and well cast.

The editing of the film for the most part is good, but the film does feel overlong at points.  The scenes between Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) as two shop keepers working in the station–though sweet–add nothing to the story.  But this is a minor complaint; one that I only thought of after the film had long been over.

Overall this film has charm, and it touched me.  You are truly taken to a time and place.  This is by far Martin Scorsese’s most beautiful looking film and most likely the most beautiful film of the year.

Grade:  A-