Saturday, January 5, 2013

'Les Misérable' The Movie in Review

As any lover of opera and musical theatre would, I of course was beyond excited to catch the Les Miz movie, which has already opened in Singapore and the USA on Christmas. Unfortunately Christmas is really no big deal for most folks in Taiwan, so it will only open in Feb 2013 to coincide with Chinese New Year, by which time I will be back in Singapore to visit relatives as well as catch the SLO's new Madama Butterfly.

So it seems that life as a jetsetter between these two places has pretty much killed my dreams of watching the movie in a proper movie theatre. So while I'm waiting for the DVD release, I got Hawk to share his thoughts on how the movie fared. Here's his take:

Les Miserables - the movie (2012)

A review by Hawk Liu

Before you read on, be aware that this review may or may not agree with the general opinions about Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe - you are warned.

As a movie, the wow factor is certainly there. The movie opens with an expansive view of convicts towing in a GIGANTIC monster of a broken ship. Without resorting to unnecessary excesses, visually, there were lots to see - the sets, the ambience, the editing, the costumes, even the close ups some people complained about (this is a movie, after all). Each scene was set appropriately to achieve the right effect and there were some interesting choices (eg., Valjean's first soliliquy and Lovely ladies). The crowd scenes were all exciting - there was much to see and one really felt the urgency of what was going on. 'Master of the House' was a delight. The clever editing showed the candid way the Thernadiers robbed their guests. Never a dull moment there. For me the most exciting moments were when each time Valjean had to run from Javert. I read the complete novel once a long time ago and I remembered the excitement of the escapes and I was excited to relive some of that in the movie, though a much lesser extent of that was shown in the movie as compared to the novel. The confrontation scene was yummy good. There were many comic moments that seemed ridiculous in their situations but did work well.

Yes, there are some quibbles. I am a little less keen on 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'. I didn't feel the loneliness in the set (too bright). Perhaps when he sang 'phantom faces on the walls, etc', he could imagine the scene when the boys were drinking and all that. Also, in the last bit of 'On my own', the close up on Eponine was too long drawn. There could be some long shots of her sitting in the knee hugging position (which was less obvious in the movie edit) to show how lonely she really was. Oh, there was the scene of a private moment between Valjean and adult Cosette where the look Valjean gave Cosette showed more than just a fatherly intent - and it was quite uncomfortable.

The cast was the most popular topic for everyone. The Thernadiers were a delight. I prefer the Missus. She was such fun. She did remind me too much of her role in the Sweeney Todd movie. The Master's dead-pan face didn't catch on for me at the beginning. His clever tricks and sly moves won me over eventually. Enjolras sang well acted his part really well. There was no let up in his spirit and conviction for a revolution and I believed him. Some may complain about his youthful looks. My opinion is he was a student and therefore shouldn't look too much older.

Marius - hmmm... I so, so wish he was much, much better looking. Such a wimpy look he had! Looks aside, he did exude a charm that only Cosette would admire (at first sight, mind you, out of the many other better looking kids around). Marius was convincing in the acting and singing. Wish he didn't sob thru so much of 'Empty Chairs'. The other students were wonderful - such a lively bunch throughout.

Eponine was a very beautiful girl and so was Cosette in a way (didn't like her 'goldfish' eyes! Ugh !) and I guess for Marius, it was a choice between a brunette and a blonde. The blonde won in this case. Well, if you ask me I would go for the brunette. She had so much more life and passion. The singing was convincing and wonderful to listen to. Cosette wasn't too much of a charactor. It's unfortunate that Victor Hugo did write her character that way even in the novel. It was a pretty singing voice and she did her part well. Her part required only two general expressions anyway - soft delight (when seeing Marius) and love-struck sorrow (when not seeing Marius).

Fantine - oh, I heard such divided opinions! I liked her. Good to look at, sang well, convincing and believeable. However, I did not like 'I dreamed a dream'. Could she not destroy the song with too much sobbing?! But...but... you may say, it's acting. Then I would say, the actors should use their acting and singing skills together to convince me in the medium (musical movie) to convey their meaning without destroying the 'musical' part of the movie. If one needs to resort to the bawling and yelling and screaming to get the message across then don't call this a 'musical' movie. Case in point, in the 'Far from the home I love' scene in 'Fiddler on the Roof' move, Hodel sang with so much pathos - she sang and she cried but she didn't miss a note. Barbra Streisand in 'Yentl''s many tearful and passionate moments sang and cried but didn't miss a note and didn't the audience love her in them?

Javert! Although I am a fan, I can't say he was evil enough. It was an introverted police inspector I saw. Maybe it was the director's fault, I can't say. On the scale of 1 to 10, the singing expression was 1 most of the way and maybe hit a 5 here and there. It was a totally untrained voice with the general lack of lustre. However, I admire him for one thing alone in the movie - he didn't abuse his singing voice. I would blame it on the director to have chosen the wrong man for the job. All being said, I am still a fan of Russell Crowe and he's one police inspector I won't run away from! :)

The controversial role for me was Valjean's. Let's do the positives first. The sacrifices Jackman made to look his charactor in the first scene paid off. It was difficult to believe that it was him there with the saggy eye bags and all that. He looked 70 years old. He carried off the entire role well, acting wise, with all the multi-faceted angles of Valjean, although I would strike his hand just for looking at adult Cosette with that desire in his eyes in a late scene. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Alright, here it comes... the singing was not good! It was not good! Did I say it again?! Yes, the expressions and interpretation was spot on but the voice was awful. It was a far cry from his singing in the stage version of Oklahomo years back (albeit already quite throaty then). He had no head voice in every sense of the word that he had to belt and yell through most of 'Bring him home'. He sang through his nose as a default and the tone was not pretty and he sings so much in the movie. There was a lot of vocal abuse.

In my opinion, it was bad casting choices in both Valjean and Javert. They should have cast Alfie Boe as Valjean. Gone are the days of old Rodgers and Hammerstein movies which had wonderful singing and they still moved us without resorting to yelling, screaming and bawling to get the desired effect. Other movies that come to mind include Fiddler on the Roof (Tevye sang everything well and acted superbly), Yentl and Hello Dolly (Barbra Streisand ! Need I say more?), Chicago (Catherine Zeta-Jones - yay!), Sound of Music (Julie Andrews!), etc.

The musical work was cut in many places and many lyrics were noticeably changed to suit the movie. All in all, it was a very good movie. I would shut my ears when Valjean sings cos it was quite painful and strangely I would not flinch so much at Javert's singing cos it was generally mild.

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